Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 17, 1963

"Three Days And Three Nights"

Robert H. Farish

Several years ago I read a sermon of brother T. B. Larimore's in which the attempt was made to prove that Christ was not crucified on Friday. Due to the irresponsible character of some book-borrowing brother, I do not now have my copy of that book of sermons, but as I recall it, the efforts of brother Larimore were motivated by concern for an avowed infidel, who claimed that his lack of faith in the Bible stemmed from what to him was a discrepancy between the generally accepted day (Friday) of our Lord's crucifixion and the claim made by Christ that he would be in the heart of the earth "three day and three nights." The infidel was demanding seventy-two hours to fulfill "three day and three nights." Certainly there are not three twelve hour days and three twelve hour nights between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning when our Lord arose. Hence, for those who insist that the language, "three days and three nights" requires seventy-two hours, there is a contradiction.

Brother Larimore took the only course possible to reconcile the Scriptures with the idea of "seventy-two hours" as the length of time that Christ was in the "heart of the earth." He sought to establish that there were Sabbath days in addition to the regular sabbath day and that it was possible that one of these sabbaths, in addition to the regular weekly sabbath, fell within the last week of Christ's life. If there were an extra sabbath in that week, the language of the Scripture which identifies the crucifixion day as being "the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath" (Mark 15:42), could be construed as possibly applicable to the extra sabbath day and thus the crucifixion day might be some day other than Friday.

Brother N. W. Allphin, in an article titled "Our Lord's Crucifixion Day," which appeared in the Gospel Guardian of Dec. 6th, brands the idea of Friday's being the crucifixion day as a "Roman Catholic delusion." Brother Allphin follows about the same line as brother Larimore followed. All that brother Allphin or brother Larimore could prove from the Scriptures was that it was possible for an additional sabbath day to have occurred in the final week.

Brother Allphin thinks that those who believe that the sabbath spoken of in Mark 15:42 is the regular weekly sabbath must take one horn of a dilemma. He says that if "Jesus was buried late Friday evening and arose early Sunday morning, being in the tomb some 36 hours instead of 72 hours, these questions arise: must we say he did not know how long he would remain in the grave? or that he did know the length of time, but purposely mis-stated it? Which horn of the dilemma shall we take?" NEITHER! This is not a true dilemma for there is no scriptural basis upon which one can contend for seventy-two hours being embraced in "three days and three nights." The problem can be resolved by simply studying scriptural usage of the term. At the outset, let it be understood that no argument is being made for the meaning of the term according to current English usage. It is Scriptural usage that we are interested in.

"Three Days And Three Nights"

The question is: does the Jewish usage, in the times that the Bible was written, require seventy-two hours for "three days and three nights"? Brother McGarvey, in his booklet "Jesus and Jonah," gives exhaustive treatment to the Jewish way of expressing time. (This is, of course, Jewish practice as reflected in the Bible.) A few of the cases presented by brother McGarvey are selected and presented here.

The Length Of Abijam's Reign — 1 Kings 15:1,2,8,9 The length of Abijam's reign over Judah is given as three years; yet he began to reign in the eighteenth year of Jereboam and was after his death succeeded by his son, Asa, in the twentieth year of Jereboam! According to the Bible, Abijam's reign included part of the eighteenth year of Jereboam's reign, all of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth. Must we say that the writer of Kings did not know how long Abijam reigned or that he did know the length of time he reigned but purposely mis-stated it? No, we will just allow this example of Bible usage to instruct us as to the meaning, according to the Jew, of "three years." Abijam did not reign nine hundred and ninety-five days!

The Length Of Nadab's Reign — 1 Kings 15:25,28

Nadab "reigned over Israel two years." He began his reign "in the second year of Asa," but he was killed in the third year of Asa. Nadab's two year reign was part of the second and part of the third year of Asa's reign.

Cornelius' "Four Days Ago Until This Hour" Acts 10:3,9,10,24,30

When Peter came to the house of Cornelius, Cornelius made the statement, "Four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house ...." (Acts 10:30) If twelve hours are to be counted for each day there must be forty-eight hours plus twelve hours for each night of the three nights. This gives a total of eighty-four hours. Now, can we find eighty-four full hours in the account? Look at it! Cornelius was praying at the ninth hour when the angel appeared (Acts 10:3); as soon as the angel departed he sent messengers to Joppa (Acts 10:7,8); the next day about the sixth hour the messengers drew nigh to the city (Acts 10:9,10); the messengers lodged with Peter that night (Acts 10:23); on the morrow, they leave for Caesarea (Acts 10:23); the next day at the ninth hour Peter meets Cornelius; "and Cornelius said, four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house and behold a man stood before me in bright apparel...." (Acts 10:30) Summing up, we have: less than three hours the first day; twelve hours the second day; twelve hours the third day, nine hours the fourth day; thirty-six hours for the three nights. This gives a total of sixty hours. This lacks twenty-four hours being enough hours to "fill the bill" according to the requirements of those who demand seventy-two hours for Christ's time in the grave.

"After three days" (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) is equivalent to "the third day" of the parallel passages (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22, etc.) These terms are also equivalent to "three days and three nights." Why not explain "three days and three nights" in the light of the "third day be raised up," rather than arbitrarily deciding that there has to be seventy-two hours to "fill the bill" of "three days and three nights"? How can "the third day be raised up" be reconciled with the seventy-two hour idea?

"The Day Before The Sabbath"

On the day of the crucifixion of our Lord "when even was now come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, there came Joseph and asked for the body of Jesus." (Mark 15:42,43) There is nothing to suggest that this be understood as anything but the regular weekly sabbath and hence, the day before the sabbath would be our Friday. This is the conclusion that comes most readily to mind upon reading the passage and unless there are compelling reasons for affirming that it is a sabbath other than the familiar weekly sabbath, we should allow it to mean what the majority of people get from a reading of the passage. There are no such compelling reasons for putting an unusual construction on the passage. There is no discrepancy between "three days and three nights" and the generally accepted day (Friday) as the day of our Lord's death.

— 417 E. Groesbeck, Lufkin, Texas