There are three basic views concerning the day that Christ was crucified. The majority view is a Friday crucifixion, commonly called Good Friday. A second view that has gained some popularity is that Christ was crucified on Wednesday. There is also a third view that blends the other views and places the crucifixion on Thursday. Before we consider the biblical and historic evidence, lets lay out the 3 general views listed above.
The Wednesday view asserts that Christ’s words to the unbelieving wicked Jews in Matthew 12:40 are literal 24-hour days. Matthew 12:40 reads, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This view would then see problems with Christ only laying in the grave for one complete day as held in the Friday view. Therefore, according to this view, Christ had to lay in the tomb for a total of 72 hours or this verse would be false. The 72 hour would be based on the Jewish calendar that would have each day starting at night fall of every evening (roughly 6:00pm). The Wednesday view would also assert that there were 2 sabbaths that week. The first being a high sabbath on Thursday (John19:31), the first day for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The second sabbath would be the weekly sabbath on our Saturday. Christ would have been in the grave from sun down on Wednesday to Saturday evening at sun down.
The Thursday view would also see a problem with there only being one full day with Christ in the grave. However, unlike the Wednesday view, this view does not hold a rigid 72 hour period. It simply states that Christ must have laid in the tomb for part of three days and three nights. If Christ was in the grave for part of Thursday, then that would equal a complete day. So, they would count the days and nights as follows: day one as the end part of Thursday, night one as Thursday night, day two as Friday, night two as Friday night, day three as Saturday, and night three as Saturday night. Christ would be risen sometime between midnight and sunrise early Sunday morning. This view would have Friday as a high sabbath and Saturday as a weekly sabbath.
The Friday view would consider the language used by Christ in Matthew 12:40 as simply being a Jewish idiom. An idiom is a metaphor used to convey a meaning through cryptic language. For an example, consider the American idiom, “it is raining cats and dogs.” According to this view, if Christ was in the tomb part of a day then it could be counted as the whole day. Any part of Friday Saturday, or Sunday would be considered the whole of the day, both day and night. John Gill writes of Matthew 12:40:
That Christ means himself by the “son of man”, there is no reason to doubt; and his being laid in a tomb, dug out of a rock, is sufficient to answer this phrase, “the heart of the earth”, in distinction from the surface of it; but some difficulty arises about the time of his continuing there, and the prediction here made agreeable to the type: for it was on the sixth day of the week, we commonly call “Friday”, towards the close, on the day of the preparation for the sabbath, and when the sabbath drew on, that the body of Christ was laid in the sepulchre; where it lay all the next day, which was the sabbath of the Jews, and what we commonly call “Saturday”; and early on the first of the week, usually called “Sunday”, or the Lord’s day, he rose from the dead; so that he was but one whole day, and part of two, in the grave. To solve this difficulty, and set the matter in a clear light, let it be observed, that the three days and three nights, mean three natural days, consisting of day and night, or twenty four hours, and are what the Greeks call νυχθημερα, “night days”; but the Jews have no other way of expressing them, but as here; and with them it is a well known rule, and used on all occasions, as in the computation of their feasts and times of mourning, in the observance of the passover, circumcision, and divers purifications, that מקצת היום ככולו, “a part of a day is as the whole”3: and so, whatever was done before sun setting, or after, if but an hour, or ever so small a time, before or after it, it was reckoned as the whole preceding, or following day; and whether this was in the night part, or day part of the night day, or natural day, it mattered not, it was accounted as the whole night day: by this rule, the case here is easily adjusted; Christ was laid in the grave towards the close of the sixth day, a little before sun setting, and this being a part of the night day preceding, is reckoned as the whole; he continued there the whole night day following, being the seventh day; and rose again early on the first day, which being after sun setting, though it might be even before sun rising, yet being a part of the night day following, is to be esteemed as the whole; and thus the son of man was to be, and was three days and three nights in the grave; and which was very easy to be understood by the Jews; and it is a question whether Jonas was longer in the belly of the fish.
For a visual example, here is a teaching image created by my friend, Pastor Marty Smith.
My personal opinion is that Christ was crucified on Friday and rose again sometime on Sunday morning. My reasons are listed as follows:
- The only actual favorable evidence for a view other than Friday is the Jewish idiom found in Matthew 12:40. Taking that idiom as a literal statement instead of a figure of speech would create tension with the more literal statements found in the Bible.
- Mark 15:42 connected with Mark 16:1 state that they placed the body in the tomb the day before the sabbath (15:42) and that Mary came directly after this sabbath (16:1), very early on the first day of the week. The same principle can be seen in Matthew 27:62 and 28:1.
- If Jesus had been crucified on Wednesday and his disciples were coming to prepare the body on Sunday morning, that would mean that they were preparing the body 84 hours after he was laid in the grave. This would also seemingly contradict John 11:39, “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Why would the disciples warn Jesus concerning Lazarus and then go to prepare his body a total of 84 hours after he was placed in the grave?
- Building from the last point, if Christ was crucified on Wednesday then they would have had all Friday to prepare the body long before 84 hours expired on Sunday morning.
- Many verses in the Bible speak of Christ being raised from the dead on the third day. If the Wednesday view where correct then it would be on the 4th day after a 72-hour period. For example, consider 1 Corinthians 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”.
- The guards were only to be at the tomb “until the third day” (Matthew 27:64). If Christ was crucified on Wednesday then the guards could have theoretical left on Saturday evening at sun down.
- Luke 24:31 states that it (Sunday) was the third day since the crucifixion had happened, “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.”
- The Thursday view helps reconcile some of these issues but there seems to be no historical evidence of any belief other than a Friday crucifixion until more modern times. History certainly does not dictate doctrine. Many people of the past were off on certain issues. This is true even for those of the generation directly after the apostles. Yet, even when the church was in its infancy stage, I would think that they would very easily understand the days of the week. So even if some “Ante-Nicene Fathers” were mixed up on some doctrines, I trust that they could properly read a calendar.
- We have evidence from the first generation after the apostles that states that Christ was crucified the day before the Saturn (Saturday). Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) writes in his First Apology, “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”
These are a few of the reasons why I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday. With all that said, this should never be a point of contention in Christian fellowship. I once held to the Wednesday view before I transitioned back to believing that Christ was crucified on Friday. What is most important is that we believe that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4).
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Article originally published on PBPerspective.com March 2019