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.