A Different Way to Reckon a Day

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In Luke 24:7 two men in dazzling apparel reminded the women that “the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” To people living in Europe or North America, rising on the third day could be interpreted that Jesus remained in the tomb over 48 hours. In light of the way ancient Jews calculated time, however, Jesus was in the tomb for a shorter period.

In Luke 24:7 two men in dazzling apparel reminded the women that “the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” To people living in Europe or North America, rising on the third day could be interpreted that Jesus remained in the tomb over 48 hours. In light of the way ancient Jews calculated time, however, Jesus was in the tomb for a shorter period.[1]

Among the fragments of an ancient rabbinic commentary on Leviticus is a midrashic comment on the phrase “in the third year” from 1 Kings 18:1. Rabbi Yohanan, who lived about 220 C.E. in the Galilee, once remarked, “one month in the first year, one month in the last year, and twelve months in the middle.” According to R. Yohanan’s method of counting, 14 months constituted three years.

Recognizing that sunset marks the beginning of a Jewish day and applying the same logic used by R. Yohanan, one could interpret “on the third day” to mean that Jesus was buried late Friday afternoon and rose anytime after nightfall Saturday. Reckoning time in this way means that Jesus was placed in the tomb on Friday just before the Sabbath commenced, as Luke 23:54 suggests, remained there at least 24 hours until nightfall Saturday and rose from the dead by sunrise Sunday. Thus, Jesus may have been confined to Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb for a period of time no longer than about 26 hours.

The phrase “on the third day” is one of numerous examples from the synoptic tradition of the gospels which can be used to demonstrate that social, historical and cultural experience colors the way one reads scripture. Jesus’ social, historical and cultural context was that of late Second Temple Judaism in the land of Israel. Though foreign to us, Jesus’ world may be approached and glimpsed through careful comparative study of the Greek synoptic gospels with the earliest texts from rabbinic literature and other ancient Jewish sources.[2]


Comments 4

  1. Pingback: How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb? – JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  2. Joshua McClintock

    By any reckoning, if you claim 3 days (as exactly 72 hours), then Jesus actually rose on the 4th day. Any 72 hour period is 3 days exactly.

    So let’s say Jesus gets put into the tomb at 6pm on the 1st of some month. Exactly 72 hours later is: 6pm on the 3rd.

    1 second later is now the 4th day. So if you maintain that it must be 72 hours (exactly), then Jesus would have to actually be raised on the 4th day.

    To still be within the 3rd day, he’d need to cut those 72 hours to 71 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds.

  3. Brian Becker

    Are you suggesting we ignore the three gospel accounts of Jesus eating the Passover meal with his disciples? Mt. 26:17-20, Mk. 14:12-17, Lk 22:7-14

    Lk 22:14a – When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.

    How would Jesus eat the Passover meal (when the hour came) and also be executed the day before Passover?

  4. I’m sorry, but I don’t see it quite like that.
    Jesus said he would be in the grave three days and three nights – Matthew 12:40. When the women got to the tomb early Sunday (which began at sundown on Saturday), God had already raised Jesus from among the dead. IMHO, three days and three nights is 72 hours.
    There were two Shabbats that week. The weekly Shabbat on Saturday, which began at sundown on Friday, and Passover (along with the feast of unleavened bread) -a high Shabbat.
    If God raised Jesus from the dead on Saturday before sundown, then 72 hours before that would have been on Wednesday, at the time of preparation for Passover – when the lambs were killed – when Jesus died. He was/is the lamb of God, the sacrificial offering for the sins of all mankind. But God raised this same Jesus from among the dead, with power, and made him both Lord and Christ.
    Anyway, that’s how I read it :)

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  • Joseph Frankovic

    Joseph Frankovic

    Joseph Frankovic graduated with a Master of Arts degree in American Studies from Northeastern State University. He holds additional degrees in other disciplines, including Biblical Literature, Classical Studies, and Midrash. He earned these degrees at state and private universities and accredited Jewish and Christian seminaries.…
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