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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday, March 26, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).

Dr. R. A. Torrey was a great preacher. He was right about many things but, like all of us, he was sometimes wrong. I think that Dr. Torrey was unwise to occasionally preach from the RV, the English Revised Version of 1881. I do not condemn him for doing this, but I do think he was wrong. He was wrong, on occasion, to promote the RV over the KJV, which is a much more literal and reliable translation. I do not rebuke him, nor do I look down on him for taking this position. But I do think he was wrong. I also think Dr. Torrey was wrong to teach that Christ was crucified on Wednesday rather than Friday.

Dr. Gleason Archer pointed out that a Wednesday afternoon death on the Cross does not solve the problem. Jesus died at 3:00 PM and rose about 6:00 AM. If Jesus had to be dead for three full twenty-four hour days, a Wednesday crucifixion would place Christ's resurrection on Monday morning, rather than Sunday, the first day of the Roman week. Dr. Archer said,

It is perfectly true that a Friday Crucifixion will not yield three full twenty-four hour days. But neither will a Thursday afternoon Crucifixion, nor a Wednesday afternoon Crucifixion either. This results from the fact that Jesus died at 3:00 PM and rose at about 6:00 AM. The only way you can come out with three twenty-four-hour days is if He rose at the same hour (three days later, of course) that He was crucified, namely, 3:00 PM. Actually, however, He rose "on the third day" (First Corinthians 15:4). Obviously, if He rose on the third day, He could not already have been buried for three whole nights and three whole days. That would have required His resurrection on the fourth day (Gleason L. Archer, Ph.D., An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan, 1982, p. 328).

Dr. Archer then said,

According to ancient parlance…when you wished to refer to three separate twenty-four-hour days, you said, “Three days and three nights” – even though only a portion of the first and third days might be involved (ibid.).

 A similar usage is apparent from the narrative in I Samuel 30:12, where “he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights” is equated in v. 13 with [Hebrew words] (“three days ago”) – which could only mean “day before yesterday.”  But if the Egyptian slave fell ill on the day before yesterday (with relationship to the day on which David found him), then he could not have remained without food or water for three entire twenty-four-hour days.  We simply have to get used to slightly different ways of expressing time intervals (ibid.).

 What, then, is the meaning of the expression in Matthew 12:40: “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”?  This can only refer to three twenty-four-hour days in part or in whole.  That is to say, Jesus expired at 3:00 PM near the close of Friday (according to the Hebrew method of reckoning each day as beginning at sundown), which would be one day.  Then Friday 6:00 PM to Saturday 6:00 PM would be the second day, and Saturday 6:00 PM to Sunday 6:00 PM would constitute the third day – during which (i.e. Sunday 6:00 AM or a little before) Christ arose (ibid.).

Dr. Henry M. Morris gave a similar thought on Matthew 12:40.  Dr. Morris said,

If “three days and three nights” is taken to mean literally seventy-two hours, there would be an apparent contradiction with the over eleven prophecies and records that contend Christ would rise on “the third day” (Matthew 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19; I Corinthians 15:4, etc.).  This reckoning would [also] oppose the uniform tradition of the church that He was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday.  The problem is resolved if one assumes that any portion of a day or night could be idiomatically reckoned as a “day and night.”  Actual extra-Biblical justification for assuming this idiomatic usage here exists.  Thus, if three calendar dates are involved, they can be counted as the entire three days and nights.  At least two similar usages can be found in the Old Testament.  Note Esther 4:16 in comparison with Esther 5:1, and I Samuel 30:12 in comparison with I Samuel 30:13 (Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995, page 1024).

Dr. John Gill, the great Baptist Bible commentator, in his Exposition of the New Testament, first published in 1809, gave the same explanation.  Dr. Gill was a careful and thorough scholar of the Biblical languages.  Dr. Gill gave the Greek and Hebrew words that

Set the matter in a clear light…that the three days and three nights…are what the Greeks call [Greek words] night-days, but the Jews have no other way of expressing them [so they say] that [Hebrew words] a part of a day is as the whole: and so, whatever was done before sun-setting, or after, if but an hour…was reckoned as the whole preceding, or following day…it was accounted as the whole night-day: by this rule, the case here is easily adjusted; Christ was laid in the grave towards the close of the sixth day [Friday], a little before sun-setting…He continued there the whole night-day following, being the seventh day [Saturday]; and rose again early on the first day [Sunday] (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, pp. 137-138). 

Dr. Archer, Dr. Morris and Dr. Gill set the matter straight.  Though Dr. Torrey was a great man in many ways, I think he was wrong when he said that the crucifixion occurred on Wednesday. 

Please turn to I Corinthians 15:4.  Let us stand and read it aloud,

“And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:4). 

You may be seated. 

If Christ was crucified on Wednesday, He would have to have risen on Saturday, “the third day” afterwards.  But He did not rise on Saturday.  Turn to John 20:1.  Let us stand and read this verse aloud. 

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1).

You may be seated. 

“The first day of the week” on the Roman calendar was Sunday.  That means He arose on Sunday morning, “the third day” (I Corinthians 15:4).  He rose on the first day – Sunday.  Thus, the crucifixion could not have taken place on Wednesday, as Dr. Torrey incorrectly said. 

The best explanation is that which our old-time Baptist Bible scholar Dr. Gill gave.  Christ was crucified on Friday – and rose from the dead on Sunday morning!


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