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The Crucifixion: Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?

The exact day of the week of Christ’s death has been debated for centuries. The day, while not fundamental to the gospel, is of some import, especially in countries like South Africa which celebrate Good Friday as a public holiday. Churches hold Good Friday services (were we allowed out the house!) What support is there for each of these views?

The Wednesday View

This view is almost entirely based upon Matthew 12:40, which makes mention of three nights. This leads proponents to require 72 hours from Christ’s death to His resurrection. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Saturday (Nisan 10), is betrayed on the Tuesday, and crucified Wednesday (Nisan 14). Consequently, Jesus must have risen before 6pm on Saturday, or else he ends rising up on the fourth day).

The Thursday View

This is similarly based on Matthew 12:40, stating that a Friday crucifixion has only two nights. Proponents suggest that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday (Nisan 10) the Last Supper was Wednesday night, Jesus was crucified on Thursday (Nisan 14), and the next day (Friday) was a sabbath because it was the first day of Unleavened Bread. The “day of preparation” is said to be Thursday. It is claimed that people would have been resting on the Friday, and hence Thursday became the day of preparation.

The Friday View

In this view, Christ celebrated the Supper on Thursday night. This was likely the Galilean Passover, which was celebrated a day earlier. He was tried in the early hours of Friday, He entered Jerusalem on the Monday, Nisan 10 (which had begun Sunday 6pm) and was crucified on Friday (Nisan 15, by Galilean reckoning, Nisan14 by Judean reckoning), the day of preparation. He was laid in the tomb on the same day, and was in the tomb all of the Sabbath. The women who came to the Tomb came early on the first day of the week (Sunday), the same day on which He rose.

Evidence:

The Scriptures overwhelmingly speak of Jesus being raised “on the third day” ((Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4), not the fourth. Four passages (Matt. 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) speak of Christ’s resurrection as occurring “after three days,” but this is speaking of the same time period as on “the third day” because that is the phrase uses in parallel Gospel accounts.

Several Old Testament accounts show that the Hebrews regarded a part of a day as the whole day, that is, “day and night”. For example day in Esther 4:16, Esther asks the Jews, “Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day,” and then she would go in to the king, and in 5:1 Esther went in to the king on the third day. Other examples include Genesis 42:17, 1 Kings 20:29, 2 Chronicles 10:5, 1 Samuel 30:12-13). Rabbinical sources also show this. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c A.D. 100), said “A day and night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.” (Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath ix. 3; also Babylonian Talmud: Pesahim 4a). If Jesus was in the tomb for part of Friday and part of Sunday, then the Jewish idiom would be that he was in the tomb for “three days and three nights”.

The Wednesday crucifixion requires that Jesus have ridden into Jerusalem on the Saturday, which would have been another Sabbath violation, as would the cutting down of palm branches. It has Christ rising on the fourth day, if the “third day” is also the first day of the week.

There is simply no evidence that Nisan 15 (the day after Passover) was a day on which no one worked. This is essentially a theory held only by those who hold to the Thursday crucifixion. There is no real case for a Passover Sabbath which occurred the day before the regular weekly Sabbath. The expression “the day of preparation” is universally used to mean Friday ((Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42). Mark makes this especially clear “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mk. 15:42).

The great consensus of interpreters and scholars is that Jesus died on Friday. Yes, to keep the strict chronology and typology of the examination of the Passover Lamb, we probably have to accept it was really Palm Monday. Perhaps the complicated harmonizing of Galilean and Judean timekeeping might allow us to keep that one, since we have no Scripture telling us exactly what day of the week was the triumphal entry. But it seems the evidence does point fairly clearly to a Friday crucifixion.

David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

4 Responses to The Crucifixion: Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?

  1. The year Christ was crucified there were three sabbaths in a row: Passover, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and then the regular Sabbath. (It will also be the same this year, April 2020.) Christ arose at the end of the regular Sabbath, at sundown that Saturday. I believe the Lord was crucified on Wednesday, was in the grave by sundown, and was in the grave for a literal three days and three nights, Jewish time, that is sundown to sundown. The fact that there were three Sabbaths in a row that year wasn’t an obscure fact to the Gospel writers or readers, but it is to us. I have orthodox Jewish friends who tell me that this year will be especially hard for them regarding preparation because “there are three Sabbaths in a row in 2020.” Their words were rather stunning for me to ponder.

  2. Further, why do we accept the tradition of “Good Friday”, viewed through Gentile eyes, instead of viewing Christ’s death and resurrection through Jewish eyes? And why is it that a literal three days in the heart of the earth doesn’t seem to matter to us but a literal six days of Creation does? I’m not desiring debate here, just questioning.

  3. Ruthann, thanks for your comments. And my answer is also not seeking any kind of contention, just a friendly discussion about when our shared Lord and Saviour rose.

    As you can tell, the thinking about Friday is very much rooted in Jewish thinking, as you can tell from the quotes from the Tanakh, and even from the later Talmud. Josephus also believed that a part of a day was reckoned as a whole day.
    This makes Good Friday not a Gentile tradition, but something many of us believe to be the best exposition of Scripture. While the Wednesday interpretation does the best job of literally explaining Matt 12:40, one wonders if it would exist at all if it weren’t for that verse. On the other hand, it has far more trouble explaining how rising on the first day of the week (Mk 16:9), even if it was 6:01pm on Saturday, was not the fourth day, reckoned from Wednesday.
    When doing theology, we have to weigh evidence that points in different directions. For many interpreters, me included, we see the evidence for Friday being the day of preparation being far more explicit in Scripture than the idea that 72 hours is needed to fulfil Scripture. And good theological method always prioritises the clear over the unclear, the unambiguous over the ambiguous. For my mind, Matthew 12:40, in the context of being compared to Jonah, contains enough ambiguity to not start with it, with Wednesday as the presupposition and work out from there.

    I live in an orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, and I know that not all sabbaths are observed similarly. That being the case 2000 years later, we have even less evidence that the non-weekly sabbaths were observed as the weekly sabbath was in biblical times.

    Also, according to the mathematicians, Nisan 14 was a Friday in A.D. 33: https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/monthly.html?year=33&month=4&country=34

  4. Does not the Jewish “day” proceed sundown to sundown? Therefore sundown of our Saturday night (for example, at 7:41 pm the Sun is down) also is the start of the first day of the week, Sunday (for example, at 7:42 pm our Saturday night from the Jewish perspective is the beginning moment of the first day of the week). And perhaps recognizing the Jewish calendar as a lunar calendar, not solar, brings further clarity. Curious, and how wonderful this grace and mercy of I AM to us covered with the blood of Christ Jesus.

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