Good question...

...well, is it 'after' 3 days or 'on' the 3rd day?!

(created Nov 20, material added Sept 2001)

Somebody wrote in a question about a PREVIOUS question I tried to answer (my original replies are in italic):

QUESTION: This comes from a list of reasons why humanists don't believe the Bible. I picked up their document from America On-Line. It is also a question I've had, but have never had answered. Jesus said he was going to be in the earth (buried) for three days and three nights. If he died on Friday and rose on Sunday morning, how is this three days and three nights.

ANSWER: This is one of the easier ones...the Jews counted PART of a day or night as a WHOLE day or nite, so part of Friday, all of Sat, part of Sun would be 'three days and three nights'--it was a Hebrew idiom of the day...

We do the same thing of course...if I say I worked at the office all day, 'all day' Normally doesn't mean 24 means most of the daylight hours or whatever...

This fits with the other predictions that says 'on the third day'...

[at this point, the NEW questioner asks:] Sir, first of all, it seems that your example is not a very precise one. You have stated: "if I say I worked at the office all day, 'all day' Normally doesn't mean 24 hours". Although it is right, but it has a very simple reason for it... Tradition. No office works for 24 hours a day. Thus a "full day" with reference to an office, normally implies "Office Hours". Like wise, if while talking about a Cricket Match, someone says: "A whole day's play was lost due to rain"... The "Whole Day" with reference to a Cricket match would only mean six hours' play.

Thus, the meaning and implication of the phrases "Full Day", "Whole Day" and the word "Day", can and normally does change with a change in the whatever it has been used with reference to. For instance, if I say: "I stayed in America, for three days and three nights", now the word "day" is being used here in the absolute sense. Thus, one day and one night, should be a full circle. don't you think so?

Then again, you have stated: "..the Jews counted PART of a day or night as a WHOLE day or nite".

My question with regard to this is: What is the source of this information about the referred Jewish tradition? Is it the Classical Jewish Literature? Is it the Bible itself? Is it Josephus? I hope you would appreciate that this is necessary for me to know because without it, I don't know how can I be sure about it?

I await your reply


PS: Furthermore, I would like to stress that when we say, for instance: "24 hours a day"... the word "day" here expands to include "day" and "night".. But when we say "22 nights and 23 days" here the word "day" does not include "nights".

Thus I think linguistically, "3 days and 3 nights" must include at least "Three" full or part days and "Three" full or part nights, separately. Three part days and only "Two" nights, it seems, cannot be termed as "Three Days and Three Nights". Please clarify.

I replied...

It is important to recognize first off, that the issue of "Don't you think so?" needs to be answered definitively 'no'...Idiomatic expressions in other cultures don't have to make ANY sense to us at all. Our job as readers of the literature from another culture is to try to understand THEIR idioms, rather than judge them.

So, with that in mind, let me answer the request above for the data that supports my original statement ("What is the source of this information about the referred Jewish tradition?")

Although I cannot list it all, let me give the main references available. Let me cite data from three sources: the OT, the Rabbinix, and one NT passage.

1. The OT data (to show that 'on the third day' = 'after three days')

Gen 42.16: "And he put them all in custody for three days. 18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God" and they are released ON that day (from the context of verses 25-26). In this case the 'for three days' meant only 'into the third day'

1 Kings 20.29: "For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. " In this case we have 'for seven days' meant only 'into the seventh day'.

2 Chr 10.5: "And he said to them, 'Return to me again in three days" (NAS) with verse 12: "So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, 'Return to me on the third day." In this case 'in three days' is equivalent to 'on the third day'.

Esther 4.16: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'" And then in 5.1: "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. " In this case, "on the third day" is equivalent to "for three days, night or day".

1 Samuel 30.12: "He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights. 13 David asked him, "To whom do you belong, and where do you come from?" He said, "I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. " In this case "for three days and three nights' somehow was fulfilled when his master left him 'three days ago'.

"Thus, the Old Testament gives the picture that the expressions 'three days,' 'the third day,' and 'three days and three nights' are used to signify the same period of time." [NT:CALC:73]

2. The Rabbinical literature also manifests this idiomatic range: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, tenth in the descent from Ezra was very specific: "A day and a night are an Onah ['a portion of time'] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it" [J.Talmud, Shabbath 9.3 and b.Talmud, Pesahim 4a]

This understanding was used in the numerous correlations between Jonah 1.17 ('in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights') and the OT passages cited above [e.g. Mid.Rabbath on Genesis 56 (on 22.4); Genesis 91.7 (on 42.17-18)].

3. There is one NT passage that indicates this Jewish idiom. Matt 27.63: ""Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.' 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. " Note that 'after three days' was somehow equivalent to 'until the third day' (not 'until the fourth day').
This data should demonstrate the rough equivalence of the NT phrases.


And then somebody ELSE commented/asked:

I have been scanning your web site and find it very informative. Your treatment of others and their opinions is to be highly commended. I do
find  that your attention to detail is very valuable but at times the original question seems to get lost. For instance you say that the old issue  regarding the passage in Matt. 12:40 (3 days and 3 nights), is an easy one. Your supporting documentation is to the point. But your references do NOT answer the original question. Jesus arose in the morning (Mark 16:9), if we use the logic presented by you and others, we still have a problem...3 days and 2 nights. Jesus 'was risen early the first day of the week'. I can understand a partial day and a partial night as counting for a day and night...but if Jesus arose from the dead early Sunday then we have a missing  night.

Can you help me out with this?

I replied with:
"Thanks for your kind words...and for pointing out the need to make a
clearer conclusion to the article (hopefully I can do that soon)...

"As for your question,

 1. the day started at sundown (as the sabbath does today in Israel), and ANY part of the night/day cycle counted for the whole (as the article pointed out).

 2. Jesus death on Friday afternoon would have been part of the Thursday  nite/Friday daylight "day".

 3. thus, we have THREE 'day/night' days involved: "Thur nite/Friday daylight", "Friday nite/Sat daylight", "Sat night/Sunday daylight" (remembering again that a part of a period counted for the WHOLE)

He came back with:

Interesting logic but cannot agree with it. It's your use of Thursday night that is troubling.

And I tried again:

"Its common usage even today...if you have a block about it, just think about how Israel does it TODAY...

"The sabbath runs from Friday sundown to Saturday Sundown...any point in time between those two is considered "on the sabbath"...and the two "halves" are NOT considered separate at all (the night before the dawn is NOT considered any different that the bright noonday hour) just have to go with the normal levels of ordinary precision...for example, for someone to say Jesus was mistaken when he said 'are there not 12 hours in the day?' when there are NEVER exactly 12 hours in a day is applying a false standard to ordinary mathematical usage levels, '3 days and 3 nights' COULD NEVER  EXACTLY EQUAL 'ON the third day'--but they used it that way in common discourse ANYWAY (and we do the same in other areas ourselves)...maybe you  are applying an inappropriate precision grid onto ordinary language?--it's a common problem for people of all persuasions and belief, and one I constantly have to be on guard against myself (as a westerner and science-type)...

" I don't know if this helps any, or just adds to the confusion..but I thought I would try again quickly before getting back to work...

Hope this helps,
Glenn M. Miller


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