I ran across the following comment not too long ago on an Internet forum: “The crucifixion of the Son of God as recorded in the Bible must have taken place on Wednesday, in order that THREE days and THREE nights or 72 hours be fulfilled. ‘Good Friday’ is just another untruth from romish delusion.”
These type of statements made by well-meaning people really puzzle me. It is important to try to unpack this as it demonstrates a major challenge in how some conservative Christians (thankfully not all) try to approach the Bible and apply what they read.
The first observation to make is the underlying concern that the traditional view in which Jesus was crucified on a Friday actually undermines the inerrancy of the Bible. In Matthew 12:40, we read that:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (ESV).
This is the “Sign of Jonah” that prophetically draws on a parallel between what the prophet Jonah experienced and the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Some critics of biblical inerrancy cite this as a case where there is an error in the Bible. If you take a literal approach to the concept of “day” as consisting of both “a day and a night,” then you run into a problem since you do not have three full sequences of “a day and a night” between Friday and Sunday, where you only have two nights involved. In response, some defenders of biblical inerrancy contend that Jesus must have been crucified earlier in the week, either on Thursday or on Wednesday, as the Internet commenter assumes (Here are a couple of attempts to make the Wednesday case I found on the Interwebs: #1 and #2).
Now, there are surely scholarly cases to be made for Thursday or Wednesday, instead of Friday, following on some of New Testament scholar Brant Pitre’s research on the date of the Last Supper (Pitre is Roman Catholic, by the way… this Sacred Page podcast interviews him about his research). Frankly, it does not matter to me what day Jesus was actually crucified. If it really mattered that much, the Holy Scripture would be a lot more clear about the subject. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to uphold the traditional view. The important thing is that Jesus was crucified for our sins and then was raised from the dead, no matter what the exact chronology.
I consulted the blog of our friend Andreas Köestenberger, professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, as he had co-written a book last year on The Final Days of Jesus. Following a basic Scriptural principle that we must interpret Scripture with Scripture, Köestenberger notes that in Luke 24:7 that Jesus is to be crucified and then rise “on the third day,” which fits in perfectly with the traditional “Good Friday” thesis.
So, does this create a contradiction that undermines the inerrancy of the Bible? Köestenberger answers this difficulty by noting that the “a day and a night” reference to a “day” is actually an idiomatic expression. In other words, “a day and a night” could mean any part of a single day. If you accept such a biblical idiom, then you do not need to insert a third night in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Otherwise, you have created for yourself another problem for your view of biblical inerrancy since you still have to deal with Jesus rising “on the third day” according to Luke 24:7, not after the third day according to the Wednesday theory. Read professor Köestenberger’s full and very probable explanation here.
A rough parallel to the use of such an idiom can be found in English. I am very much a night owl and so sometimes I do not get to bed until just after midnight. Sometimes my wife will ask me a question that late at night, and I might say, “I will talk to you about it tomorrow, OK?” Now, did I just commit an error and lie to my wife? After all, technically speaking, it is after midnight, and we are already into “tomorrow.” No, my use of “tomorrow” is simply another way of saying that I need to get a good night sleep before I try to answer her question. That is all. To try to read any more into that is just being persnickety.
My second observation and my biggest gripe with the Internet comment is how this person applies this “truth” that Jesus was not crucified on Good Friday. For the commenter, the “Good Friday Myth” is just another example of “romish delusion,” which is just another way of saying that Roman Catholicism is at the root of this error. Furthermore, it implies that anyone who goes along with “Good Friday” is guilty of perpetuating the “delusion” of Roman Catholicism.
This really is not the place to go into questions regarding Roman Catholicism. My objection is that the Internet commenter has taken a particular position on a controversial issue and applied it as part of wide-ranging polemic against an entire system of belief that is at odds with theirs without sufficient warrant. Right off of the bat, there are big problems with this. First, the “Good Friday” tradition extends back much further than “Roman Catholicism” into the early history of the church. The Eastern Orthodox community that goes back into those early years as well also celebrates “Good Friday,” and they do not accept papal authority. Secondly, the implication is that any Protestant who follows the practice of celebrating “Good Friday” is merely swallowing Roman Catholic “papist” practice and belief uncritically. The sixteenth century leaders of the magisterial Reformation would probably take issue with such a sweeping accusation.
If someone takes the position that the crucifixion happened on a Wednesday or Thursday, then there can surely be no harm in doing so in principle. However, I would argue that such a conviction may also indicate that there is another agenda going on that tears at the fabric of the unity of the evangelical church. If someone is wondering why the topic of “biblical inerrancy” comes under such needless scorn, one need not look any further than the misguided attempts of some who wish to deconstruct the “Good Friday Myth.” How you present your argument is just as important as what the argument really is.
Ralph Woodrow, a Southern California evangelist, at one time embraced the idea that “Good Friday” was merely a product of the so-called pagan roots associated with Roman Catholicism, opting for the Wednesday view instead. However, after further reflection, Woodrow changed his view and has since adopted the traditional “Good Friday” view of when the crucifixion happened. Woodrow is an interesting figure in that he wrote Babylon Mystery Religion in 1966, a stridently anti-Catholic book based on the pseudo-scholarship of Alexander Hislop, introduced here on Veracity. However, in 1997, Woodrow, who is still an evangelical Christian, published a different book, The Babylonian Connection?, that publicly refuted his earlier work when he learned that Alexander Hislop was not really a reliable historian. It takes great courage for a man to write one book and then publicly come out later and say that he was wrong. In this essay, Woodrow argues that the heart of the earth in Matthew 12:40 is actually a symbolic reference to the city of Jerusalem, and it is not necessarily a reference only to the time period of Jesus’ death. If Woodrow is correct, then this further negates the need to contend for the Wednesday crucifixion view in that it is quite clear that Jesus faced his greatest trial and humiliation for three days and three nights in the city of Jerusalem, starting on Thursday with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and ending on Sunday morning!