Faith Bible Blog

Information and Reflections for the FBC Family

TXT: Three Nights or Two for the Resurrection?

Question: Matthew 12:40 says 3 nights, but there were only 2 – Friday and Saturday.  Which is right?


This  question is a common one and illustrates some important “bible interpretation” principles or rules.  When an apparent contradiction occurs in a passage of Scripture, there are a number of key interpretive  rules that we need to employ as we seek to draw out God’s intended meaning.  The  use of these  grammatical “rules” help us understand the original meaning and protect against drawing erroneous conclusions, unclear  or contradictory interpretations.  One of the most important  interpretive “rules”  has to do with identifying the custom(s) and context of the 1st century audience. Just as you and I use  current (21st century) “ways” of saying something that everyone would understand in our day, so too does the Bible!

There are instances when Scripture  records “sayings” or “concepts” that were common and well understood then, but usually are not well understood now.

Identifying and understanding their way of saying things is essential if we are to accurately understand  and explain the Scripture.  In the Lord’s day, it was customary that any part of the day is counted as the whole. One helpful resource  for understanding these customs is the Jewish Talmud.  The Talmud is a collection of  laws, decisions, oral traditions and principles  laid down by Jewish rabbis (beginning in the 8 century BC).  It is a rich source of information regarding the customs and practices of the Jewish religious leaders and people during the 1st century AD.  The Talmud informs us of the prevailing custom regarding what constituted a day and a night in Jesus day:

” …any part of the day is as the whole”

So, what did Jesus mean when He said he would  be 3 days and 3 nights in the grave? Obviously He did not mean a literal 72 hours, as we understand it in the Western sense.  Understanding the customary way of speaking, we can be assured that Jesus was speaking in a way that would be well-understood in His day, and frequently used! His hearers would have understood that any part of a day counted as the whole day.  This sheds light on what Jesus meant!

All of us use the same kinds of  “generalizations” in the course of our normal conversations today.  For example, how many times have you said or heard something like this: “Boy, we worked day and night  for a week to get the proposal done!”  What you meant was that you spent a significant  portion of your time on those things each day, but NOT that you “literally” worked for 168 hours on it!

Author: Peter Spiers

Peter is an executive with CFA, a national healthcare consulting firm, and invests all his off-work time into his church and his family. He is faithful to invest his life into men and loves to see people transformed by God's Word.

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