Q&A: Three Days and Three Nights

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Three Days and Three Nights

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Question: Is the explanation of the Hebrew idiom in Jonah 1:17 by The Companion Bible accurate-that it can only mean three full days and three full nights, not parts?

Answer: We do not know of any corroboration of The Companion Bible's claim that this is the only way the phrase can be understood. However, that does not mean that it's incorrect to view the phrase as meaning a literal period of 72 hours, as we will explain.

Most who write on the subject attempt to correlate Jonah 1:17 with a preconceived view of Matthew 12:40. Assuming the Greek to mean parts of three days and nights, they reason backwards from the Gospel account to interpret the Jonah reference. Adding this to the fact that there is evidence that the Hebrew can mean parts of three days and nights, they conclude that is what it means.

Their reasoning is flawed, because it is based on an erroneous interpretation of Matthew 12:40, as most seek to support the theory of a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection. Most overlook the fact that there were two Sabbaths during that week. The day after the crucifixion was a Sabbath, an annual Holy Day (Mark 15:42), and two days later was the weekly Sabbath (Luke 23:56).

Christ was laid in the tomb in a hurry, as sunset (the beginning of the Holy Day) was approaching. Without the time to purchase, prepare and apply embalming spices, the women rested through the Holy Day-during which time the markets were closed. The next day, they made their purchases and preparations, resting from their labors again on the weekly Sabbath. That's three full days and three full nights.

Early on the first day of the week, before dawn, they went to the tomb to apply the embalming mixture. They discovered that Christ was already resurrected. The only plausible time line for the events of the crucifixion week is that Christ was in the grave three full days and three full nights, from late on a Wednesday until late on a Saturday.

Now, use Christ's promise that He would be in the grave for the same length of time that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish in conjunction with this historical record. What is the correct way to understand "three days and three nights" in both Matthew 12:40 and Jonah 1:17? It means three literal days and three literal nights-72 full hours.

We invite you to read our brochure titled Holidays or Holy Days-Does it Matter Which Days We Keep? for a fuller explanation of the gospel accounts of the events surrounding the crucifixion. You can request a free copy through the home office or through our Internet Web site at www.ucg.org, where you can also read it online. UN

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