The worldwide consensus opinion is that Jesus was crucified on Friday. Because of this the Friday before Easter has come to be known as Good Friday. There are, however, some minority opinions on the subject. With this post I’ll explore the possibility of a Wednesday crucifixion. Just for the record, well known preachers such as William Graham Scroggie, R.A. Torrey, Bill Rice, Jack Hyles, Howard C. Estep, and Dave Breese, just to name a few, have taught a Wednesday crucifixion.
Those who contend that Jesus died on Wednesday rather than Friday primarily base their contention on a highly literal interpretation of Matthew 12:40, where Jesus references Jonah 1:17 in saying:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (N.K.J.V.)
According to the interpretation, for Christ’s body to be in the tomb three days and three nights, and then be resurrected before daylight on Sunday morning (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-7, John 20:1), He had to die on Wednesday and be buried just before sunset. Since the Jewish “day” started at sunset rather than sunrise (see Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31), the Jewish Thursday began at sunset. Therefore, according to the interpretation, the three nights and three days of Christ’s resurrection played out as follows in terms of the Jewish way of reckoning:
- Night and Day #1: Christ’s body was in the tomb all night Thursday night (what we would think of as Wednesday night) and all the following day until the Jewish Friday began at sunset.
- Night and Day #2: Christ’s body was in the tomb all night Friday night (what we would think of as Thursday night) and all the following day until the Jewish Saturday began at sunset.
- Night and Day #3: Christ’s body was in the tomb all night Saturday night (what we would think of as Friday night) and all the following day until the Jewish Sunday began at sunset. Jesus could then have arisen anytime before daylight the following morning.
Those who hold to this interpretation also cite all the passages where the term “three days” is used in reference to Christ’s resurrection, with the assumption being that the term must refer to literal 24-hour days. Here is a listing of those other passages: Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:40; Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; Mark 14:58; Mark 15:29-30; and John 2:19.
At first glance these passages seem to build a pretty strong case for a Wednesday crucifixion. There is a problem, though, with forcing the term “three days” to mean 72 hours. That problem is the fact that the New Testament uses the term “third day” even more than it uses “three days” in reference to Christ’s resurrection. You see, there is a subtle but important difference between saying that Jesus arose after three days and saying that He arose on the third day. The passages that say He arose on the third day are as follows: Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:19; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:34; Luke 9:22; Luke 18:23; Luke 24:21; Acts 10:38-40; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
The Luke 24:21 passage is especially relevant to our question. In that verse, two followers of Jesus walk and talk with the risen Jesus even though they don’t recognize Him. And what is it those followers say to Him? After explaining to Him that Jesus had been condemned to death and crucified, they say:
“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:21, N.K.J.V.)
Remember now that those men were having that conversation with the resurrected Jesus on Sunday. That means that if Jesus had been crucified on Wednesday, Sunday would have been the fourth day. Thursday would have been the first. Friday would have been the second. Saturday would have been the third. Sunday would have been the fourth. This, you see, is the problem with requiring that Christ’s body be in the tomb three full days and three full nights. By necessity it places Christ’s resurrection on the fourth day rather than the third, and that simply isn’t what scripture teaches.
Another objection to a Wednesday crucifixion involves the weekly Jewish Sabbath day, which began at sunset on Friday evening and ran until sunset on Saturday evening. The gospels plainly teach that Christ’s body had to be removed from the cross and buried hastily because the Sabbath was about to begin and no body could be left hanging on a cross during a Sabbath (Mark 15:42-43, Luke 23:50-54, John 19:31). If the Sabbath in question was the typical Sabbath it makes for a slam dunk that Jesus was crucified on Friday.
Obviously, then, it is necessary for those who teach a Wednesday crucifixion to have an alternative interpretation of this Sabbath. And they do have one. According to them the Sabbath the burial of Christ’s body had to beat was not the weekly Jewish Sabbath but was, instead, a Sabbath that was associated with the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Let me explain. The Jewish Passover always began at twilight on the 14th day of Abib (changed to the name Nisan after Israel’s Babylonian captivity). This was the first month of the Jewish calendar year (Exodus 12:1-2,6-14; Leviticus 23:4-5; Numbers 28:16). Then, at sunset the day following the Passover, the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread began (Exodus 12:15-20; Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17).
Now, the thing to note about the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread is that, according to the Mosaic law, the seven days began and ended with Sabbath days of rest (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:6-8; Numbers 28:16-25). No matter what day of the week the first and last day fell upon in any given year, those days automatically became Sabbath days. This raises the question: Was the Sabbath that followed Christ’s crucifixion the weekly Sabbath — which had to begin at sundown on Friday evening — or was it the Sabbath of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread — which could have begun at sundown on Wednesday evening?
As you might guess those who preach a Wednesday crucifixion say the Sabbath day in question was the one that began the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Furthermore, they assert that John’s gospel even tells us that the Sabbath was the one associated with the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than the normal, weekly one. Here are the verses they quote:
Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him…” (John 19:14, N.K.J.V.)
Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31, N.K.J.V.)
Well, here again we are faced with some verses that seem to incline us toward a Wednesday crucifixion. But, again, things aren’t so cut and dried. Luke 23:56 is especially problematic for anyone who says the Sabbath involved with Christ’s crucifixion and burial was not the regular, weekly Sabbath that began Friday evening at sunset. That verse says of a group of women:
Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment. (Luke 23:56, N.K.J.V.)
That verse’s specific use of the term ” the (singular) commandment” immediately takes our minds to the 4th of the famous 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) that served as not only the opening to the Mosaic law but also the moral heart and center of that entire body of law. That 4th commandment was the command to keep the weekly Sabbath as a day of rest. While it’s true that the Mosaic law instructed the Jews to make Sabbath days of the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is a real stretch to refer to those instructions as “the (singular) commandment.” That term so much more easily fits the 4th commandment. And if that’s the commandment to which those women were being obediently restful, it blows the theory of the crucifixion Sabbath being something other than the typical Sabbath completely out of the water.
Well, I could continue in my description of the argument for a Wednesday crucifixion because there are other points of debate and other verses to cite. I hope, though, that I’ve offered enough here for you to not only catch the gist of the argument but also understand the argument’s strengths and weaknesses. And, as you’ve probably surmised by now, I agree with those who conclude that the weaknesses cancel out the strengths. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of a Wednesday crucifixion certainly makes for an interesting study, one to which I’ve devoted more hours than I can recall. But, when all the studying is said and done, I just can’t sign off on the idea.
Someone might ask, “So how do you explain Christ’s words from Matthew 12:40, where He says that He will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth?” I explain them by taking them as an idiomatic expression and Old Testament illustration that served as Christ’s way of emphasizing that He would resurrect on the third day. Really, if God wanted us to fixate on a hyper literal, wooden interpretation of that particular phrase, why didn’t He mention it more than once in the New Testament? I mean, all He had to do was replace each use of the terms “three days” and “third day” with “three days and three nights.” That would have done the trick to convince us of a Wednesday crucifixion. But He didn’t do that.
Along the same lines, we can’t even take the words “in the heart of the earth” hyper literally, can we? After all, Christ’s body wasn’t really buried in the ground, was it? It was buried in a cave that was above ground. So, if there is some wiggle room in how to interpret “in the heart of the earth,” why can’t there be wiggle room in how to interpret “three days and three nights”? And when that wiggle room keeps us from bending over backwards to spin alternative interpretations onto easily understandable passages, we should use it and let the Bible read simply wherever it can.