In February, March, and early April I’ll have plenty of Passover goodness here at Messianic Jewish Musings. At this time of year we need good inspiration about Passover, insight into the haggadah, tips for better Seders, and also to explore a number of issues of biblical matters that come up seasonally.
The timing of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection is a major issue of interest to a vast number of people looking for information on the internet. I’ve written extensively about this subject in the past, but I’m giving it all a fresh look this year. I may not agree with things I’ve said in the past. I’m looking at the sources again and rethinking. In this article I’ll summarize some viewpoints and one of the major issues: did Yeshua say he would be raised “after three days” or “on the third day”? What does this all mean? This one gets a bit technical, but the history of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection is worth a bit of work, I think.
AFTER THREE DAYS IN MARK
Mark has three predictions by Yeshua of his suffering and resurrection. In all three, Yeshua says, “and after three days rise again” (8:31; 9:31; 10:34).
THIRD DAY IN MATTHEW AND LUKE
Matthew and Luke duplicate Mark’s three passion predictions, but in each case they substitute “on the third day” for “after three days” (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7). Matthew adds another reference, the chief priests asking for the tomb to be guarded “until the third day” (27:64). Luke adds a few references. Yeshua has an additional saying: “the third day I finish my course” (13:32) and in the post-resurrection appearances, Yeshua says it was written that the Messiah must rise “on the third day” (24:46).
THREE DAYS IN MATTHEW
In Matthew 12:40 we read that “the Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.” As will be seen below, this passage has been the source of much doubt about the Good Friday tradition. In Yeshua’s statements about his opponents destroying “this temple” (meaning his body, but confusing the witnesses who thought he was speaking of destroying the Temple), he says he will raise it again in three days (Matt 26:61; 27:40, 63). The use of “three days” at the trial and by mockers is also in Mark (14:58; 15:29).
THREE DAYS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE
Three days is a sort of ideal period of time for an endeavor or journey in numerous texts.
THIRD DAY IN HOSEA
“In two days He will make us whole again; On the third day He will raise us up, And we shall be whole by His favor” (Hosea 6:2).
VIEWPOINTS AND AGENDAS ABOUT THE TIMING OF THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION
In the early days of Messianic Jewish Musings, I dealt extensively with the sort of over-literalist Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion crowd. Some of my good friends still read the Bible this way. The view goes like this: Yeshua had to be in the tomb three whole days and three whole nights or this would violate the prophecy from Jonah being three days and nights in the whale’s belly. Thus, if Yeshua rose Saturday night or Sunday before dawn, he had to be crucified on Wednesday (some say Thursday). This viewpoint overlooks many things, most notably that “after three days” is NOT EQUAL to “on the third day.” This view simply privileges one description over another and uses evidence selectively. As will be seen in future articles as well, this view CANNOT EXPLAIN the notion in all the gospels that they rushed to bury Yeshua before the Sabbath.
I now read a lot of historical Jesus books and scholars working based on ideas about pure history and what we can reconstruct with evidence that has some corroboration often choose an a-traditional reading: the evangelists changed a saying about people in general at the resurrection and made a prediction of Yeshua’s resurrection out of it. This view works as follows: Yeshua, based on Hosea 6:2 made a general saying that a son of man (a human being) will suffer and be rejected but will rise on the third day. The evangelists modified this into a specific saying that the Son of Man (Yeshua specifically) will suffer in a specific way and be raised variously “after three days” or “on the third day.” A problem with this view, aside from the fact that it rejects tradition completely and unnecessarily assumes it impossible that Yeshua knew who he was and what would happen to him, is that it doesn’t explain the earliest layer in Mark which says “after three days” and not Hosea’s “on the third day.” Maurice Casey, in his reconstruction, leaves out Hosea 6:2 and simply implies that “three days” would be such a general phrase for “very soon” that the original hearers would have understood it this way. In other words, Yeshua assumed the end was near and all the righteous would be raised very soon. Thus, he went to die to spark the beginning of the end of the age and bring the general resurrection.
A REASONABLY TRADITIONAL APPROACH
As I will explain in a future post, the Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion views are baseless. The Friday crucifixion and Sunday before dawn resurrection tradition is what the gospels point to.
So, how do we explain the variation in “after three days” and “on the third day”? And how do we explain Matthew’s “three days and nights” comparison to Jonah?
In answer to the first, I reject the skeptical notion that Mark did not know much about the resurrection. Yes, there is a theory that Mark was written early (perhaps 40 CE, see Casey and also Crossley’s book, Date of Mark’s Gospel). It is possible (I don’t know that either Casey or Crossley say this) to say that Mark got it wrong because he wrote early and had poor information. By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, everyone knew Yeshua rose on the third day.
But leaving that aside, how do we explain the two very different expressions of time. “After three days” does not equal “on the third day.” Or does it?
Actually, that may be the explanation for the variant sayings. They are equivalent, but they are described differently because in different ways of reckoning they mean the same thing. Here is what I mean: perhaps in one way of reckoning any part of a day and night would count, which gives us “after three days.” Whereas in another way of reckoning, the interval from Friday to Sunday could never be called three days, and so we get “on the third day.” I call as evidence for this the fact that even Mark uses both expressions (“after three days” in the predictions and “on the third day” in the evidence offered at the trial and in mocking at the cross). It is doubtful that anyone saw this variation as a contradiction.
How, then, do we explain Matthew’s three days and nights? Well, Matthew uses scripture midrashically in many cases. We know very little about how much midrash existed in Matthew’s time, but there are enough similarities between various fulfillment formulas in Matthew and the early midrashic literature to suggest that Matthew lived in the same world of biblical interpretation. And in midrash, scriptural notions can be used very loosely. No one would fault a midrash for finding a coincidence between two sacred events the way Matthew does (Jonah was “entombed” three days and this is similar to Yeshua’s entombment).