GUEST POST: Was Jesus really crucified on a Wednesday?

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Those of you who have been reading Christian blogs for almost ten years will no doubt remember one of my early inspirations, an insanely popular blogger called Josh Claybourn.

Well, eventually Josh hung up his blogging hat and I have been trying to persuade him ever since to re-enter the fray. Well today I am thrilled to welcome him as a guest writer on my blog. His post takes up a subject that I have heard mention of a few times over the years: the notion that the church may have got the events of “Holy Week” all wrong. I haven’t researched this enough to be sure what I think about this myself, but I would love to hear your perspectives in the comments section.

Joshua Claybourn is an author and attorney living in Indiana. His interests include the intersection of faith and history, and he is actively involved in a number of associations and groups dedicated to such topics. You can find him online at www.JoshClaybourn.com

 

Holy Week’s Wednesday Mystery

By Joshua A. Claybourn
Many Christian traditions call this day of the Holy Week “Silent Wednesday” because it is believed the Bible tells us very little about Christ’s actions on this day. In the Catholic tradition, this is also called Dark Wednesday or the Wednesday of Darkness, to underscore the loneliness of Jesus. Luke does say that, “each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple… and all the people came early in the morning to hear him.” Presumably Jesus stayed in Bethany, where He had been before.

Despite the long held church tradition for this day’s events (or lack thereof), there is a growing body of scholars who claim the traditional Holy Week calendar is all wrong. In fact, they argue Wednesday, not Friday, was actually the day Christ was crucified. The controversy touches upon a number of crucial facets of Christianity – Biblical inerrancy, church tradition, and the Trinity.

Skeptical contemporaries of Jesus demanded a sign that He was the Messiah. The story is recounted in Matthew 12:38-40:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Elsewhere Scripture reinforces the point that Jesus was to be dead for three days and three nights, including in Mark 8:31, where we are told that the Son of Man “must be killed and after three days rise again.” In Matthew 27:62-64 the Pharisees quote Jesus as saying, “After three days I will rise again.”

Yet if Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, and was crucified on Friday evening, his burial would have merely lasted one day and two nights. So why has church tradition pegged His crucifixion to Friday when that timeline contradicts clear pronouncements otherwise? The answer can be found in Mark 15:42, where we are told Jesus was crucified on “Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).” Since the weekly Sabbath occurs on Saturday, it was presumed He was crucified on Good Friday. For centuries now the church has stood by this contradiction with a defense which Martin Luther sums up well:

How can we say that he rose on the third day, since he lay in the grave only one day and two nights? According to the Jewish calculation it was only a day and a half; how shall we then persist in believing there were three days? To this we reply that he was in the state of death for at least a part of all three days. For he died at about two o’clock on Friday and consequently was dead for about two hours on the first day. After that night he lay in the grave all day, which is the true Sabbath. On the third day, which we commemorate now, he rose from the dead and so remained in the state of death a part of this day, just as if we say that something occurred on Easter-day, although it happens in the evening, only a portion of the day. In this sense Paul and the Evangelists say that he rose on the third day.

Yet Christ did not say, “After two nights and one day I will rise again.” He said, “After three days I will rise again.” This point is emphasized repeatedly in the Bible. Thus, modern interpreters of the Bible risk making Jesus Christ a liar and undercut any other claims they may have to literal interpretation of Scripture.
The conundrum can be solved with a closer examination of the Scriptural text and an understanding of the Jewish calendar. In addition to weekly Sabbaths on Saturday, the Jewish calendar has seven Annual Sabbaths, also called “High Days”, which can fall on any day of the week. We know that Jesus was crucified on the day before a Sabbath, and John 19:31 plainly says that this particular Sabbath was a “special Sabbath,” or in the Greek translation, a “High Sabbath.”

Proponents of the Wednesday crucifixion theory argue that this special Sabbath was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commenced on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan and was preceded with a Passover meal on the 14th of Nissan. If Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D. or 31 A.D., the 14th of Nissan would have fallen on a Wednesday, with the next day being an Annual Sabbath. All of this fits perfectly within the Scriptural timeline. If true, the Wednesday crucifixion would have occurred the day before a Sabbath, as recounted in the Bible, and this ultimate sacrifice would have occurred on a day typically reserved for the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb.

Other pieces of the puzzle add weight to the Wednesday crucifixion theory. Modern versions of Matthew 28:1 record the resurrection as occurring “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week.” But the Greek text reads “After the Sabbaths” (plural), meaning two Sabbaths had passed between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – the annual Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath.

Is it possible then that centuries of church tradition have had it all wrong? The church has certainly not been a model for accurate calendar construction. Modern scholars are in general agreement that Christ wasn’t actually born on December 25th, as we traditionally celebrate. So it shouldn’t be surprising that our traditional timeline for the Holy Week could be off as well.

Nevertheless, there seems to be something more egregious about goofing on the Holy Week. Not only are this week’s events the most important in the Christian faith, our approach to Scriptural accounts of them can have significant implications on the whole Bible. As we celebrate this day of the Holy Week, it may be wise to consider the possibility of a Wednesday Crucifixion.

Martin Luther's contribution: so important that God himself foretold it
Strange Fire - A Charismatic Response to John MacArthur
Jonathan Edwards on the need for Thanksgiving
"The church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men"
About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, and a writer. Since 1995 he has been a member of Jubilee Church London which has sites in Enfield, Wood Green and Ilford. Adrian serves as part of Jubilee's leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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  • Ben Thorp

    This is not something I have heard before, and I find it fascinating – thanks for sharing. Now to go and do some research….

    (Although I do still get confused with the Jewish day starting in the evening – it would be nice to have a diagram outlining this theory, as it would seem to me that if the passover meal was on the 14th, and the 14th began at sunset on the Wednesday, then he was crucified by the end of the same Jewish day, which would have been our Thursday? As I say – confused)

    • Gaby De Villiers Botha

      I have a chart that sets the events of Holy Week our very well. I just can’t remember who or where I got it from. Here is a http://media.wix.com/ugd/b115a2_7857fdad46ca46c6a27c50eba217fc24.pdf

      • Ben Thorp

        Awesome! Thanks :)

      • Genie Kiser

        This chart of the first Holy Week chronology substitutes the Jewish 24 night/day for Jonas’ one day and one night shifting the upper part of the chart one day to the right.

        If Wednesday night is counted as one of the nights then Friday night would be night three, leaving an uncertain picture of what Jesus was doing Saturday night

        If one makes a simple count of the days and nights Jesus was in the heart of the earth, giving each day and each night twelve hours, then the first day of Jonas’ sign would be Nisan 14, when Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped with 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh purchased by Nicodemus. The women who like Nicodemus were keeping a low profile watched while the two men laid Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

        That night, the beginning of Nisan 15, was the first night. Continuing the count, day two Nisan 15, night two Nisan 16, day three Nisan 16, night three Nisan 17. An earthquake just before dawn accompanied
        the angels’ rolling away the stone from the grave, the end of night three. Why did the angels roll away the stone? To allow the resurrected Jesus to walk out of the tomb!. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the sign of Jonas: three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

        This counting works only if Nisan 14 was Wednesday/Thursday, giving a Thursday crucifixion. This would also be in accord with the perfect
        Passover lamb being chosen on Sunday Nisan 10 (Exodus 12:3)

  • http://daronmedway.blogspot.com/2008/07/todd-bentley-bill-johnson-subjectivism.html Daron Medway

    Someone has pointed out a small problem with this argument as it currently stands. A Wednesday crucifixion would put Jesus in the tomb for four nights, not three. However, if Jesus was crucified in 34 AD (rather than AD 30-31) it could be three days and three nights, the crucifixion on Thursday 14th Nissan, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a High Sabbath) on the Friday 15th Nissan, a normal Sabbath on Saturday 16th Nissan and the Resurrection on Sunday 17th Nissan. This would then tie in with the author’s point about Matthew 28:1 reading, “After the Sabbaths…” (two consecutive holy days) rather than “after the Sabbath”. (See http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/Passover_dates.htm)

    • Genie Kiser

      “After the Sabbaths “ fits in better with a Thursday crucifixion–I
      will go with this!

  • Aubrey Vaughan

    I believe Galilean Jews had a different start of the day it was sunrise to Judean Jews whi h was sunset hence the passover sacrifices was over a two day period Thursday 14th Nisan 15th Nisan to jam pack over 150,000 people with all the sacrifices from 3-6 pm this could have been done over two days Jesus enjoyed the passover meal on the Thurday evening as a Galilean Jew and died on the cross on the Friday just as the sacrfices were commencing on 15th Nisan. Just some personal reflections.

  • Jonathan Chell

    Why do people focus on the sign of Jonah and seemingly ignore 1 Cor 15:4 which says that Jesus Christ rose on the third day. Luke 24:21 and 46 tell us that the Sunday afternoon was the third day, not the fourth day. To make the sign of Jonah a precise 72 hour period seems to set up a contradiction in scripture with these texts to my mind. If Jesus died on the Wednesday then the first day of the week (Sunday) would be the fourth fifth day (depending how you count them). Thankfully we do have a scriptural precedent to help us understand that it doesn’t have to be a literal 72 hour period, compare Esther 4:16 and 5:1

  • Genie Kiser

    According to Exodus 12:3, the Passover lamb without spot or wrinkle for each family was to be chosen Nisan 10. This was Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem as God’s chosen perfect lamb.. The required waiting of four days before killing it brings us to Wednesday evening, Nisan 14. The Last Supper was a Passover observance. The next day Thursday, still Nisan 14, Jesus was crucified as the perfect Passover lamb.

    This was the first day of Jonas’ three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Day Friday was the second day. Day Saturday was the third day and night Saturday was the third night. Jonas’ sign was fulfilled.

    The two Marys and Salome purchased and prepared the spices Saturday evening “after the Sabbaths,” the high Sabbath (John 19:31) and the weekly Sabbath. Arriving at the tomb just before dawn Sunday, they find Jesus risen, thus fulfilling the feast of First Fruits

  • Richard Dempsey

    Hi Adrian,

    It’s often good to hear another viewpoint on an important topic, along with subsequent comments etc.
    However, as you have said, there is nothing really new in the theory Josh presents, as I also have encountered this (and the similar Thursday argument, favoured by Jehovah’s Witnesses) a number of times in the past. The argument (for Wednesday or Thursday) tries to make much of certain scripture references and phrases (some of them obscure), while at the same time ignoring other much plainer scriptures which would not only balance the presentation but point the reader in an entirely different direction. I don’t believe this is deliberate in every case, but it does have the effect of leaving out some plain facts which support and uphold the orthodox view.

    For example, Josh quotes Matthew 12:38-40 but doesn’t allude to the cryptic nature of Jesus’ reply to the request for a sign (i.e. the phrase “the heart of the earth” is not a literal phrase). Neither does he draw sufficient attention to precisely who it is that Jesus is answering (i.e. giving this cryptic sign to). Josh refers to them as “sceptical contemporaries” but Jesus is far more direct in his description of them. He calls those requesting a sign, “a wicked and adulterous generation” and is equally clear about the fact that no clear sign will be given them. He actually states that “there shall no sign be given …” except this cryptic sign with its deliberately mysterious link to Jonah’s three days and three nights spent in the belly of the great fish [Note: Jonah wasn't dead for this period of time, neither was he in a literal grave - though, like the Psalmists, this was how he perceived his affliction - e.g. see Psalm 86:13].

    In short, Jesus never claimed that he would be dead and in the grave for three days and three nights. This is only an interpretation of the cryptic sign he gave, but it is not the best way to understand his response to the “evil and adulterous generation” demanding a sign from him.

    Another statement Josh makes is this: “If Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D. or 31 A.D., the 14th of Nissan would have fallen on a Wednesday.” But how can he (or anyone else for that matter) know this? In Jesus’ day, it was the custom for the High Priest, as head of the Sanhedrin, to confirm when the New Moon had arrived, based on visible observation. The festival dates were then calculated based on these official pronouncements. There was no set ‘calendar’ as we know of today, or independent method of advance (or retrospective) calculation.

    Josh also goes on to assert that those who agree with the orthodox view are in danger of calling Jesus “a liar”. To justify this awful assertion, he boldly tells us that “…Christ did not say, “After two nights and one day I will rise again.” He said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ This point is emphasized repeatedly in the
    Bible.” However, the truth is that a number of phrases are used (not just that quoted by Josh) all of which convey the same meaning. They are as follows: “After three days”, “in three days”, “on the third day.” So, it is evident that the phrase “after three days” simply means “on the third day” (i.e. ‘after the third day has arrived’ – see Luke 2:41-46 for an example of this use of the phrase) or, as elsewhere stated “in three days” or on “the third day”. This last phrase is the one used by Luke when he records for us the day Jesus rose from the dead (it’s also the phrase preferred by Peter: Acts 10:40 and by Paul: 1 Cor 15:4). Jesus was raised, Luke tells us, on “the third day” which happened to be the day we call Sunday, the morning of the first day of the week (Luke 24:21), Friday being the first day, Saturday being the second etc. Not that hard to figure out. You don’t need cleverly constructed charts!

    Then there is the comment about the Greek word for Sabbath (σάββατον sabbaton – Strongs G4521) in Matthew 28:1 purportedly carrying the meaning of “Sabbaths” plural (i.e. meaning more than one Sabbath Day)?? Josh puts it like this: “Modern versions of Matthew 28:1 record the resurrection as occurring “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week.” But the Greek text reads “After the Sabbaths” (plural), meaning two Sabbaths had passed between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.” (The Authorised Version of 1611 is apparently, according to Josh, one of these “modern translations”).

    The fact is that the same Greek word is used elsewhere in the New Testament where the meaning is clearly a single Sabbath day (e.g. Matt 12:1). The Authorised Version translates Strongs G4521 in the following ways: “sabbath day” (rendered in this way 37 times), “sabbath” (rendered in this way 22 times), “week” (rendered in this way 9 times).

    However, this Greek word has been transliterated as “sabbaths” in at least one translation that I am aware of (i.e. International Standard Version) and this is because the Greek word for “Sabbath” is often in the plural form, even when it has a singular meaning. The word can also convey the meaning “seven days – a week” (i.e. a plurality of days) and may be translated as such depending on the context. Notice, for example, how Young’s Literal Translation renders this verse: “And on the eve of the sabbaths, at the dawn, toward the first of the sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.” See how both the seventh day (end of the ‘week’) and the first day (first of the ‘week’ ) are equally expressed using ‘sabbaton’ (plural form) as the meaning in each case is “week” (i.e. the seventh of the ”week’ and the first of the ‘week’).

    It is true that John records the fact that the particular weekly Sabbath in question (the one following the crucifixion) was also a ‘High Day’ or annual Sabbath (i.e. the First Day of Unleavened Bread), so, in effect, it was a ‘double Sabbath’ (John 19:31) on which Jesus’ body ‘rested’ in the tomb. This is a powerful symbol [notice the contrast the writer of Hebrews makes (Hebrews 10:12) with the priests' constant daily work in the temple and Jesus resting from his finished work].

    There is so much more that we could say here but this is long enough and hopefully shows how plainly and consistently the New Testament actually speaks on this subject, leaving no room for ‘novel’ theories that may potentially confuse.

    [Ironically, given the emphasis often placed of the need for a precise 72 hour, 3 days and 3 nights, period; the Wednesday view leaves you with 4 nights and 3 days and the Thursday view leaves you with 3 nights and 2 days. Thankfully, the timeframe proposed by both views is neither required nor supported by scripture].


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