Preamble: Groups like the Church of God International, the Church of God (7th day) and The Assembly of Yahweh hold that the crucifixion was on Wednesday and the resurrection on Saturday. Many in the Caribbean have no doubt been exposed to Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet; The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday, which argues this view.
What is the argument advanced by these groups and how might we respond from the Bible?
The Arguments for a Wednesday Crucifixion
- Matthew 12.40
“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.”
- Christ’s entombment (time in the grave) would be “…a full three days and three nights which is equal to 72 hours.”
- ‘Days’ and ‘nights’ are not idiomatic but literal time frames.
- John 19.14, 31
“And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, ‘Behold your King’.”
“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.”
- ‘Preparation’ was not the day before the 7th day Sabbath but the day before the annual Passover Sabbath, which in that year, it is alleged, occurred on a Thursday. ‘Preparation’ then, was on Wednesday.
- John, wishing to differentiate the Passover Sabbath from the 7th day Sabbath, calls it a ‘high day’.
- According to Daniel 9.24-27, Messiah would be cut off ‘in the midst of the week’, that is on Wednesday.
- Matthew 28.1 (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…”
- ‘In the end of the Sabbath’ was when the women were told Christ was already resurrected. He arose then before ‘the end of the Sabbath’.
- Counting backwards from Saturday afternoon over a 72-hour period (three days and three nights) one arrives at Wednesday afternoon for the crucifixion.
Responses to the Argument for a Wednesday Crucifixion
- Using Daniel 9.24-27 to argue for a mid-week crucifixion is unsound since the ‘sevens’ in Daniel, popularly translated as ‘weeks’, are not 7-day weeks but 7-year blocks. Messiah was thus cut off, after 3 1/2 years of ministry, the middle of a ‘seven’, and not on a Wednesday, the middle of a 7-day week.
- The main point of the ‘sign of Jonah’ (Mt. 12.40) is not a literal 72-hour entombment but the miracle of deliverance.
- In the same gospel of Matthew (16.4), the ‘sign of Jonah’ is mentioned but without any time reference. The same is true in Luke 11.29-32, where Jonah and Christ themselves are regarded as signs or marvels designed to convince, because both were participants in starkly miraculous events of deliverance.
“Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, because he appeared there as one sent by God after having been miraculously saved from the great fish (as it were raised from the dead) as a proof that he was really sent by God. So also Jesus will, by His resurrection, prove conclusively that He has been sent by God as the Christ, the Messiah, the promised Redeemer.” (Norval Geldenhuys, The New Testament Commentary (Luke), 334)
- In John 2.19, the Jews request a sign and Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” As in Matthew 12.40 a sign is requested and given—the resurrection.
- “It is important to note that in Biblical times a fraction of a day or of a night was reckoned inclusively as representing the whole day or night. This method of reckoning is known as ‘inclusive reckoning’.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, 23)
- ‘A day and a night’ then in Biblical and rabbinical literature refers “not to an exact number of hours or of minutes but simply to a calendrical day, whether complete or incomplete.” (Bacchiocchi, cited above, 22)
- In Esther 4.16, we have an example of ‘inclusive reckoning’. Esther declares, “…fast ye for me and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise: then will I go in unto the King.”
In Esther 5.1, Esther went in unto the King ‘on the third day’. If the ‘three days and three nights’ fast was intended to be a literal 72-hour fast, Esther would have to go in unto the King ‘on the fourth day’.
- In 1 Samuel 30 .12 the abandoned Egyptian is said to have had nothing ‘for three days and three nights’ yet in v.13 he declares that he had been left behind ‘three days ago’. If the ‘three days and three nights’ were intended to be a literal 72-hour period, the servant would have had to say he was abandoned ‘four days ago’.
- Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who lived about AD 100, stated, “A day and a night are an Onah (‘a portion of time’) and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath 9, 3)
- Close examination of the ‘three days’ passages pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus confirms the biblical method of inclusive reckoning. The same statements of our Lord which in Mark’s gospel contain the phrase ‘after three days’ are reported in Matthew and Luke with the phrase ‘on the third day’ showing sameness in meaning.
Mark 8.31 =Matthew 16.21 =Luke 9.22
‘after three days’ ‘on the third day’ ‘on the third day’
Mark 9.31 =Matthew 17.23
‘after three days’ ‘on the third day’
Mark 10.34 =Matthew 20.19 =Luke 18.33
‘after three days’ ‘on the third day’ ‘on the third day’
- In Luke 24.7, the followers of Jesus are reminded that he had predicted his resurrection ‘on the third day’. In v. 46 Jesus affirms the same truth to some other disciples. In Acts 10.40 and 1 Corinthians 15.4 the same phrase ‘on the third day’ is used of the resurrection.
- The sameness in meaning of the two phrases ‘after three days’ and ‘on the third day’ is brought out in Matthew 27.63-64.
- In all of Jesus’ predictions concerning His resurrection in Matthew the phrase used is ‘on the third day’, yet in 27.63 the Pharisees tell Pilate that Jesus had said ‘after three days’.
- In v.64, the Jewish leaders ask Pilate to guard the tomb ‘until the third day’, because they understood the two phrases ‘after three days’ and ‘on the third day’ to be the same in meaning. If this were not the case then they would have been asking for the guard to keep watch for less than the critical period.
- The crucial verse that demolishes the arguments for a Wednesday crucifixion and Saturday resurrection is Luke 24:21.
- It is the first day of the week (Luke 24:1,13), two of Jesus’ disciples are discussing the events of the past days and Jesus joins the conversation and asks them about their discussion. They began to explain to him that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, and in disappointment they said, v. 21, ” we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this TODAY IS THE THIRD DAY SINCE THESE THINGS WERE DONE.”
- The third day then was Sunday, the first day of the week, and as Luke 24:29 hints, the statement in Luke 24:21 was made sometime ‘toward evening’ when the first day was ‘far spent’. We again quote the seventh day Adventist scholar, Samuele Bacchiocchi, “It is obvious then, that if Christ had been crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, those two disciples could not have referred to that event on a Sunday night, saying; ‘it is now the third day since this happened.’ According to the Jewish inclusive day-reckoning it would have been the fifth day and not the third.” (p.28
- The sequence of the Passion weekend are clearly described in the Gospels as Preparation day (crucifixion/entombment), Sabbath (entombment), First Day (Resurrection)
- Mark 15:42 shows that Jesus was crucified the day of ‘preparation; that is, the day before the Sabbath.’ The next day for Mark is the Sabbath (Mark 16:1), followed by the ‘first day of the week’ (Mark 16:2)
- Luke 23:54 says the same, Jesus was crucified and entombed ‘that day (which) was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on.’ After the Sabbath came the first day of the week (Luke 23:56 and 24:1)
- By linking the beginning of the Sabbath to the end of the preparation, and the beginning of the ‘first day of the week’ to the termination of the Sabbath both Mark and Luke LEAVE ABSOLUTELY NO ROOM FOR TWO FULL DAYS TO INTERVENE BETWEEN THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION.
- i) The Greek words for ‘Preparation’ (paraskeuē) and ‘day before the Sabbath, Sabbath eve” (prosabbaton) were both technical terms used to describe ‘Friday’.
- ii) Matthew 28:1 is used by Herbert W. Armstrong to prove that there were two Sabbaths between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The section highlighted reads literally in the Greek, ‘at the end of the Sabbaths.’ The first Sabbath was Thursday “the annual high-day Sabbath” while the second was “the weekly Sabbath, Saturday.”
As Harold W. Hoehner pointed out, “The term Sabbath is frequently (one-third of all its New Testament occurrences) in the plural form in the New Testament when only one day is in view. For example, in Matthew 12:1-12 both the singular and the plural forms are used (cf. esp. v.5).” Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, p. 69-70.
iii) Bearing in mind that the Gospel sequence is Preparation, Sabbath, first day then the Sabbath here could not be a Thursday Passover Sabbath because Thursday is not followed by the first day of the week.
- In John 19.31 we read, “…that Sabbath was a high day” and in 19.14 we read, “And it was the preparation of the Passover”.
- Both passages affirm that the Friday was the Friday of the Passover week and the Sabbath a high day because it fell in Passover week.
- “…John 19.14 means that the day of the Lord’s crucifixion was the Friday of the Passover, the Friday that falls during Passover week, i.e., Passover Friday (Good Friday). It is a grammatically correct rendering and all the evidence is in favour of it.” (Norval Geldenhuys, cited earlier, 664)
- “The Sabbath about to open was a ‘high-day’ —it was both a Sabbath and the second Paschal Day, which was regarded as in every respect equally sacred with the first, nay more so, since the so-called wavesheaf was then offered to the Lord.” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 613)
- Matthew 28.1 seems to contain a contradiction as it is normally translated in the King James Version, because ‘in the end of the Sabbath’ is not ‘as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week’ The troublesome word in Greek is opse, translated in the KJV as ‘in the end’. The word can mean ‘in the end’, ‘long after’ or ‘after’.
- The word appears elsewhere in the New Testament only at Mark 11.19 and 13.35. In Mark 11.19 the meaning could either be the late afternoon of that day or the time after sunset, which started the new day. In Mark 13.35, however, the word indicates the ‘first watch of the night’ from about sunset to about 00 p.m.
- By virtue of the companion passages dealing with the visit of the women to the tomb (Mark 16.1-2, “when the Sabbath was past…at the rising of the sun“; Luke 24.1, “very early in the morning“) and the Jewish restrictions re Sabbath travel, the meaning of opse must be ‘after’ or ‘long after’.
- Even though the Greek word translated ‘to dawn’ in Matthew 28.1 has a figurative sense of ‘drawing close’ its literal meaning is ‘to grow light’, ‘to shine forth’ or ‘to dawn’, pointing to the early morning of a day.
- The plain sense of Matthew 28.1 then is “after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning”.
- The testimony of the early Christian writers (after the Apostles) reveals unanimous acceptance of a Friday crucifixion, Sunday resurrection. No early Christian writer ever disputed or doubted this sequence.
- The Biblical record, properly understood in its historical context, clearly affirms a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection.
 Dr. Frederick Pryce (seen on TBN, Thursday, April 24, 2003) holds a similar view with one modification; Jesus completed the 72 hours up to 6.00 pm on Saturday evening and rose on Sunday but not early Sunday morning as most Churches believe. He re-punctuates Mk. 16.9 to read, “Now when Jesus rose, early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…” For Pryce Jesus rose sometime between 6.01 pm on the Saturday and the time when he appeared to Mary Magdalene on the Sunday morning.”