“Good Friday…or was it Wednesday or Thursday?” by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.

ZA Blog on April 9th, 2009. Tagged under .

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Scripture clearly predicted in Matthew 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (cf. Jonah 1:17). But if our Lord was crucified on "Good Friday," that would not leave 72 hours (24 hrs. x 3 days and nights =72), but instead probably something more like 38 hours for our Lord to be in the tomb (Friday afternoon til midnight, 7-9 hours + Saturday 24 hrs. + four or five hours on Easter Sunday morning =  36-38 hours total.  That certainly does not equal three full days and three full nights of 72 hours. 

However, notice I inserted the words "full" in each case, which of course is the way a Westerner would take a statement like "three days and three nights," but Scripture did not use this expression in the same way some of us might use it.  However, what we miss is the fact that "three days and three nights" was a stereotypical phrase that allowed the full day and night to be counted when any part of that time was included. 

For example, 1 Samuel 30:12 has the same formula of "three days and three nights" used by the Egyptian, whom David found as he was pursuring the Amalekites, who had captured and made off with all the women, children and elderly people David had left in his temporarily adopted home of Ziklag. The Egyptian turned out to be a slave to an Amalekite, who abandoned him when he became ill "three days ago" (1 Sam 30:13).  The words translated by the NIV as "three days ago," literally translated from the Hebrew read: "Today is the third [day]" (Hebrew: hayyom sheloshah). Thus, he too used the "three days and three nights" stereotype formula, but clearly he did not mean three full days and three full nights, for on that very day, it was only day three! 

Therefore, in accordance with this example and several others in Scripture, a part of a day, night, or year could be counted as a full day or night or year. Likewise, Solomon's navy was gone for three years (1 Kings 10:22), but it becomes clear that any part of a year counted as one year; thus his ships left about the fall of the year, were gone all the next year and returned in the third year about Passover time.

Therefore, it is not necessary to move the crucifixion back to "Good Wednesday" or "Good Thursday" in order to account for the 72 hours.

Kaiserw  Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (PhD, Brandeis University) is the Colman M. Mockler distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He has taught at Wheaton College and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Kaiser has written over 40 books, including Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching; Hard Sayings of the Old Testament; "Exodus" in the Expositor's Bible Commentary; The Messiah in the Old Testament; A History of Israel; The Promise-Plan of God; Recovering the Unity of the Bible; and coauthored An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Dr. Kaiser and his wife, Marge, currently reside at Kerith Farm in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. Dr. Kaiser’s website is www.walterckaiserjr.com.

  • M Russell 10 years ago

    Happy Easter!
    He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

    Christians traditionally identify Friday of Easter week as the day of Jesus’ death. But, just like claiming there were three kings at Christmas, this calendar may be a matter of tradition.

    The Easter week must align with the prototypes of Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Feast of First Fruits given in the Mosaic Law. Christ, being the Lamb of God, must fulfill the requirements of the Passover lamb.

    Exodus 12 defines Passover.

    Here is how everything nicely aligns, when you put aside the tradition and just look at Scripture.

    10th Day of Nissan (Sunday) – Select the Lamb
    ** Jews were to select the Passover lamb. They would then keep it around and observe it to make sure it had no blemish or fault.
    ** Jesus entered the city. The people selected Him as their hopeful political saviour. But, more importantly, God selected Him to be the Passover lamb for the world.

    11th Day to 14th Day of Nissan (Monday to Thursday)
    ** Days of observation and trials to test the lamb.
    ** Days that Jesus spent most of the daylight hours in the Temple area being confronted and observed by everyone, including the religious leaders.
    ** Jesus underwent the most exhaustive trials during the night and early morning of Thursday when He was brought before various authorities six separate times. Eventually, being declared not guilty and blameless by Pilate.

    14th Day of Nissan (Thursday) – Day of Preparation
    ** Before the end of the day (sunset), Israel was to kill the lamb and eat the Passover meal. This day is known as the Day of Preparation in the Law. The blood of the lamb was to be put on the doorposts before sunset.
    ** Jesus and His Disciples eat the Passover meal on Wednesday night. Because they did so after sunset, they did satisfy the Law by eating the meal on Passover Day. A Jewish Day runs from sunset to sunset, not midnight to midnight as in Western calendars.
    ** Jesus was crucified on Thursday from 9am to 3pm. As a result, He satisfied the Law requiring that the lamb be killed before the end of the Day of Preparation.

    15th Day of Nissan (Friday) – Special Sabbath of Feast of Unleavened Bread
    ** This is the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Lev 23:6-7, this day is always a Sabbath (whether it falls on Saturday or not).
    ** John 19:31 makes it clear that Friday was the day after the Day of Preparation. Therefore, Friday was a special Sabbath. Part of the confusion about the calendar is caused by this back-to-back Sabbaths.
    ** Furthermore, it was necessary for the crucifixion to take place on Thursday instead of Friday in order for Jesus’ statement in Matt 12:38-40 about the sign of Jonah and being in the earth for 3 days and 3 nights.

    16th Day of Nissan (Saturday) – Regular Sabbath
    ** This is a regular Sabbath.

    17th Day of Nissan (Sunday) – Feast of First Fruits
    ** This is the start of the Feast of First Fruits. Seven weeks (49 days) follow leading to a special Sabbath celebration.
    ** Jesus’ resurrection is called the First Fruits of the elect and those to be resurrected unto eternal life. This was followed by seven weeks during which Jesus made His presence known to many — the Disciples, 500 in Galilee, and many others.

    So, as we see, there is a beautiful harmony of the prototype of Passover lamb and the fulfillment of God’s Lamb.

    Looking at a calendar
    The Gospel account is very clear that the crucifixion occurred on the Day of Preparation (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14,31,42)

    Regarding the calendar. Jesus was crucified during the daylight period of the Day of Preparation, which Exodus 12 defines as the 14th day of Nissan.

    So, for fun, I found a Hebrew religious to Gregorian calendar calculator and plugged in some dates. Here is what I found for the daylight period of 14 Nissan.

    14 Nissan 3787 => Thursday, 7 April 27 AD
    14 Nissan 3788 => Tuesday, 27 March 28 AD
    14 Nissan 3789 => Sunday, 14 April 29 AD
    14 Nissan 3790 => Thursday, 3 April 30 AD
    14 Nissan 3791 => Tuesday, 24 March 31 AD
    14 Nissan 3792 => Tuesday, 12 April 32 AD
    14 Nissan 3793 => Saturday, 1 April 33 AD

    Given that Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC and was about 33 years old when crucified, that would support either the 27 AD or the 30 AD dates, which are .. ta da .. Thursday!

    In fact, it turns out that the Hebrew calendar was aligned in such a manner that the daylight period of the Day of Preparation could never occur on a Friday!

    Summary perspective
    I do want to point out, that much like Christmas, nitpicking over the specific date is a minor issue and one that has no bearing on a person’s salvation or the important doctrines of The Faith. Whether Thursday or Friday, the historical facts are the same – Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose before sunrise on Sunday morning.

  • John Umland 10 years ago

    Thanks. I was attracted to the Good Thursday idea. This is helpful.
    God is good

  • Andrew Patrick 10 years ago

    Only a Wednesday Passover allows them women enough time to purchase and prepare burial spices without breaking the Sabbath – either the Annual Sabbath, or the Weekly Sabbath.


    (I wrote that article, so I take responsibility for it)

    I agree with the date of 30 AD, but the Jewish calanders I have access to both say that Nisan 14 (on AD 30) was a Wednesday.

  • Jeff Neil 10 years ago

    Incidentally, it appears likely that Mary Magdalene actually came to the sepulchre twice. The first time she came alone after sunset on Saturday evening, which was reckoned as the beginning of Sunday. (John 20:1). The Greek word “iti” translated as “yet”, (while it was yet dark), should be translated as “after that”, therefore the passage should read: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, after that it was dark, unto the sepulchre …” That’s when Christ first appeared to her and she was not allowed to touch Him. However, when she returned “as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week” she and other women who were now with her, were allowed to hold Him by the feet and worship Him. (Matt. 28:9).

  • Silas 9 years ago

    14 Nissan 3793 => Saturday, 1 April 33 AD
    that is totally NOT true!!!

    please check out
    (never mind the Roman calendar side)