“On” or “After”? Defending the Friday Crucifixion

Shrine in Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Shrine in Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In case you didn’t perceive it in the light of my series on St. Patrick (which is still ongoing–stay tuned, true believer!), one of my pet peeves about the anti-traditional wing of Christianity is that they will deny the established, sound views on things seemingly for the sole reason of not being in agreement with Roman Catholicism. It may just be me, but that’s the way things look to me. One example of this is the two competing sites in Israel for which the claim is made that it is the genuine site of Calvary and Christ’s tomb. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has the vote of all the ancient churches, be they Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, what have you. Then there’s the Garden Tomb (formerly Gordon’s tomb), for which the claim was not made until a nineteenth century Protestant made it against the prevailing established evidence which overwhelmingly supports the validity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Speaking generally, many Protestants tend to prefer the Garden tomb because it doesn’t have a big, old medieval or Crusader-era church built on top of it, ruining the view.

In the realm of traditional biblical claims, the question of on which day of the week Christ died is divided between those who aren’t uncomfortable with historic, established, orthodox traditional views and those who are. I was reading the Wikipedia article on Good Friday yesterday (here’s the link), in which the Good Friday customs of various groups are outlined. After the ancient Eastern and Western groups are treated, naturally the historic Protestant customs are described, followed by a section entitled, “Other Protestant Traditions.” The second paragraph of this section reflects the tendency I’m addressing:

Some Baptist, Pentecostal and many Sabbatarian and non-denominational churches oppose the observance of Good Friday, instead observing the Crucifixion on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (which Christians believe is an Old Testament pointer to Jesus Christ). A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus Christ allows for Christ to be in the tomb (heart of the earth) for three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day if he died on Friday.

I think this paragraph does a good job of highlighting part of the reason for the debate: wooden literalism. Firstly, the desire is to make sure the crucifixion of the Lamb of God takes place at the precise moment the copies and shadows of the heavenly things are offered, as if it just couldn’t happen at any other moment. Secondly, just because Jesus used the language in this one exchange that in modern English vernacular corresponds literally to a seventy-two hour period, the rest of the Gospel references to when Christ rose must be interpreted in the light of this verse understood this particular way. Anything else is unacceptable to such interpreters. Again, the fear being agreement with Rome on something. The net result becomes that Jesus couldn’t have died on Friday because it wasn’t a “literal” three days and three nights. Only Catholics and those other denominations that retain more Roman Catholic like practices than we do would be so gullible as to agree with the Friday view of the crucifixion.

One of the most popular denials the anti-traditional interpreters make is the traditional appeal to the fact that in the first century Jewish idiom a “day” can refer to either part of a day, or the entire day. I’ve yet to hear a persuasive argument against this linguistic phenomenon out of those who hold the Wednesday view, I just hear the unbroken mantra of “three days and three nights.” In other words, it seems to me those who hold this view simply don’t want to be confused by facts because they’ve got their proof text and they’re sticking with it.

All I’d like to do is focus on the other Gospel passages that refer to when Christ would rise from the dead. They tend to fall into two categories: those that have Christ rising “on the third day,” and those that have Christ rising “after three days.”

If the Wednesday crucifixion were true, and Christ did lie in the tomb for a literal seventy-two hour period, then perhaps the “after three days” verses are preferable. These passages are Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34. Here’s the first of Mark’s references, Mark 8:31–

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (emphasis mine).

On the other hand, if Christ did die on Friday, spend Saturday in the tomb and rise before sunrise on Sunday morning, then this scenario is more easily reflected by the “on the third day” verses. These passages are Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46. Let’s use Luke’s final verse as an example, Luke 24:46–

“and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead . . . . ‘”

If life were simple and we could resort to a majority vote, the traditional view wins. But I know it’s not that easy.  However, it is worthy of note that the time frame references that don’t explicitly reveal a seventy-two hour period outnumber the ones more favorable to the Wednesday crucifixion view. No wonder when the early church compiled the New Testament teachings of the apostles into creedal form, they used the language that favors the Friday crucifixion view:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.



21 responses

  1. Good post. Harold Hoehner’s book, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, convinced me of the Friday view. You’re right about anti-Catholic sentiment. That’s all good and fine but sometimes that pendulum swings too far the other way….

    Great post, Cap’n.

  2. Yeah, I’ve got some of Hoehner’s work on the subject in the back of J. Dwight Pentecost’s The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. It was a textbook from Baptist Bible College.

    What’s that about the pendulum? Can you elaborate?

  3. I just mean that they are running away from the errors of Catholicism into an opposite extreme. Reacting against Catholicism blinds them to some of the traditional views that Catholicism has that are truly Biblical and correct, like the Friday crucifixion, etc.

  4. I too like Hoehner’s book and his timeline information is very helpful. But the thing that always drives me a little batty about the Wed/Thurs crucifixion adherants is their dismissal of the word that is used in greek for the Day of Preparation. The word Parasceve (Greek paraskevé) ALWAYS means Friday in Greek. The language should be enough to convince anyone that the Day of Preparation (Luke 23:54) was a Friday. It always was a Friday and there is no other place in Greek literature where the word “parasceve” is used in any other way than Friday.


  5. Interesting point, Gage. It’s been a while since I researched this.

  6. I’m going to have to get my hands on this book by Hoehner. I realize how dangerous I can be with as little information as I have.

  7. One caution, he is dispensationalist, Dallas Seminary and all. So part of the book deals with the 70 weeks. Then again, the seventy weeks does get us right to Jesus (69 anyway), regardless of how one interprets #70. There’s lots of good info in Hoehner’s book. I used to have it but it got lost having been loaned to someone in my college days.

  8. I’m aware he’s a dispensationalist, so’s Pentecost in whose book the Hoehner material I have is contained. Has any covenant theologian produced a similar resource?

  9. I suppose there’s no market for this topic among covenant theologians. They aren’t as prone to hyper-literalism or knee-jerk anti-catholicism on non-essential issues.

  10. Gage,

    good to see you making comments. How’s the wife? Have another yet?

    As to the Friday bit, that caught my attention.

    Seeing the “day” in a count begins with the “evening” then the “morning” is one day, could I conclude that according to Hebraic counting, what we call the “evening” of Thursday ending that count at midnight, could in fact be the start of the “day” Friday? If we could, or I could, I could count three “days” and three “nights” in the belly of the earth as Jonah was in the belly of the big fish and still not get messed up on Sunday’s Resurrection in the middle of day or at early dawn on the third day?

    Any thoughts on that counting?

  11. Hey Michael,
    The Friday issue is settled in my opinion. However I do love to hear wooden literalists yell and scream at me that Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights.!!!..but when I yell up and down that Paresceve’ means Friday… “crickets”…only crickets.

    And as far as counting days, everyone should know, as Hoehner points out that for the Jews, any part of a day was counted as a day. We have a difficult time reading back into 33 AD or even 96 AD, our own Western idea of time.

    The other thing that I think is the real sticky wicket…is that…there are really two difficult passages…and some non-friday viewers simply come out on the wrong end of their view of the passages…If you know “Parasceve” means Friday then you can come out on the right side and view of those passages.


  12. Sorry…Michael,
    I forgot to update you…my wife is due anytime…His name will be Knox Caleb James Browning. Pray for both my wife and son to be. My wife is in much pain.


  13. Congratulations, Gage. Thinking and praying for you.


  14. Hi, Michael,

    An old rule of thumb I remember learning at the feet of my old dispensationalist IFB teachers regarding hermeneutics went, “If the plain sense makes perfect sense, seek no other sense.” The simple fact is that the “on the third day” verses (Jesus rose on day three, not after), if taken into account, cause the plain sense to no longer make perfect sense. And this is the dominant time reference in the New Testament to when he rose. Therefore, the sign of Jonah passage and the handful of “after three days” verses must be interpreted in the light of the “on the third day” verses.

    The plain sense of the “Jonah” and “after” verses no longer make perfect sense, therefore it’s time to seek some other sense. Dispensationalists and other wooden literalists are quick to appeal to the plain sense, but are loathe to admit that sometimes the plain sense doesn’t make perfect sense in some cases. Unfortunately for them, this is one of those cases.

    Happy Easter!

  15. Gage,

    Thanks again for that Friday knock-out punch.

    Love the name on the new baby! I can see the baby room now: camo walls and toy guns and military trucks scattered on the floor. Quite a tough name to live up to. Maybe he’ll take after his scrappy dad–or, touger yet, the only woman in the world who could tame his scrappy dad, Knox’s brave and beautiful mom!


  16. You guys are so much younger yet so much smarter than wee littlee mee!

    What, by George, is a wooden literalist?

    And, for my ignorant sense, what’s been the beef between three days and three nights or three nights, evenings, and three days, mornings in the belly of the big fish and Jesus’ quoting that to His three evenings and three mornings in the belly of the earth?

    Again, one was literal, that is Jonah’s days and nights. Jesus, it seems to me was pointing to another “event” with another outcome, seeing God “destroyed” Ninevah anyway!

    Go easy on me fellas, I don’t run fast anymore as I have gained more of a belly than I did when I was young!

  17. oh, yeah, Gage, the references, which verses? “The other thing that I think is the real sticky wicket…is that…there are really two difficult passages…and some non-friday viewers simply come out on the wrong end of their view of the passages…”

  18. Oh, also, Happy Easter, for you and me, for some others, what’s happy with another day going hungry, poor, stupid, oppressed, dying in hopelessness into eternity?

    And, the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand, well, the Kingdom of Heaven is eternal so it has always been and always been at Hand. It is just that His Hand has not always been available in this Easter sort of Way! 🙂

    And still we have demons threatening us! Hmmmmm?

  19. oh yeah, also, any good “insurance” agent knows that when the clock ticks one itty bitty second after midnight, your claim is dead! 🙂

    I never like insurance adjusters waiting to the last second before declarations! grrrr

  20. Michael,

    A wooden literalist is one who will opt for a literalistic interpretation without regard for the literary aspects of a text. He tends to avoid figurative interpretations as much as possible.

    My second favorite website, Wikipedia, offers this breakdown:

    There are two kinds of literal interpretation, letterism and the more common historical-grammatical method. Letterism attempts to uncover the meaning of the text through a strict emphasis upon a mechanical, wooden literalism of words. This approach often obscures the literary aspects and consequently the primary meaning of the text[6]. The historical grammatical method is a Biblical hermeneutics technique that strives to uncover the meaning of the text by taking into account not just the grammatical words, but also the syntactical aspects, the cultural and historical background, and the literary genre.


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