This section was added because it became apparent that so much of the understanding and so many of the answers to this issue lie within the Greek text itself. The goal here is not to get lost in a maze of confusing terms. Just the opposite is desired. We want to peel away the layers that surround the core of this issue.
What shall we liken it unto? It is like an archeologist on a dig, who believes that beneath the surface of a field are great treasures to be unearthed. He must be careful when attempting to bring them to the surface. A bulldozer is useless. He must use tools fitted for the task. So it is with the field of Biblical interpretation. The interpreter cannot bulldoze his way through the text by making vague or sweeping generalizations. He cannot assume that a clump of dirt is only a clump of dirt. With the proper tools in hand, when he comes upon what may look like a simple word or sentence, he must gently brush away, or peel back the outer layers, to reveal the possible treasures lying at the core. When this is understood, what may at first seem a tedious or laborious task, becomes a labor of love.
Sticking with the analogy above, we must also understand that the history and culture that we are dealing with is Hebraic/Aramaic, not Greek/Roman. So, in many cases we must look past the Greek, and go to the underlying Hebraic idea. This has been the major error of the conventional wisdom.
This section will deal with those passages that are central to the understanding of the chronology,Matt. 12:40; 28:1-2; Luke 23:54-56; 24:21; Mark 16:1,9.
These are the passages of the text that have the greatest relevance to the understanding of the issue of the three days and nights. All Scriptural quotes are from the KJV.
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.
The phrases 'for as' and 'so' are translations of the Greek words, hosper and houtos respectively. 'Hosper' operates as an adverb of comparison. 'Houtos' completes the comparison made by hosper. The truth or reality of the second phrase (the 'houtos' phrase), is dependent upon the truth of the first (the 'hosper' phrase).
An excellent illustration of this is found in John 5:26. "For as (hosper) the Father hath life in himself; so (houtos) hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." Here, the same comparative construction is used as that in Matt. 12:40. The truth or reality is first stated that the Father has life in himself. Is this doubtful or not to be taken literally? Certainly not! Then the same truth is affirmed in the second portion, that it is given to the Son to have life in himself. The Son has life in himself, to the degree and in the same reality that the Father has life in himself. There is no getting around either truth. You cannot deny one truth without denying the other.
The use of this construction reveals how Jesus understood the meaning of Jonah's three days and nights in the whale's belly. He understood it as three days and three nights, a literal 72 hour period. If Jesus had said,". . .so shall the Son of man be about, somewhere near three days in the heart of the earth," then it could possibly mean what tradition says it does.
But Jesus is comparing the reality and manner of one situation, with the reality and manner of another. He is stating: in the same way Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so also shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The point of the comparison is the duration of time.
This is why commentaries on Jonah will point out that his time in the belly of the great fish is not to be taken literally. Because if Jonah's time is understood literally, then it demands that Jesus' time in the tomb also be taken in the same way. If this is admitted, then the whole apple cart is upset, and nobody wants to be the one to clean up that mess. So they believe that sometimes it is best to leave error in its place, so as not to cause undue distress among the regular folks.
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
The phrase 'end of the Sabbath' in Greek is opse sabbaton, meaning the evening of, or late on the Sabbath. Concerning this phrase, A.T. Robertson states, "This careful chronological statement according to Jewish days clearly means that before the Sabbath was over, that is, before six p.m., this visit by the women was made to see the sepulchre."1 He points out that the phrase, 'as it began to dawn,' was used for the dawning or starting of the twenty-four hour day at sunset, not the dawning at sunrise. The Greek verb, ejpifwvskw, is used only here and in Luke 23:54 to denote the beginning of a new day according to Jewish reckoning, not the sunrise of morning. As stated before, the day begins at sunset, not sunrise.
A good translation of this verse would be,'Late on the Sabbath, as the first of the week was commencing.' This would correspond, in our present calendar, to Saturday in the late afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to set. This visit of the women was for the viewing the tomb, not for anointing the body. When they came to view the tomb, it was before the quaking of the earth, and the angel descending. The reasons for this have been noted in the chronology.
And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
". . .when the Sabbath was past" is the Greek, diagenomenou tou sabbatou. This verb [diagenomenou] shows a completed past action that occurs before the main verb, had bought. So the Sabbath had already passed when the women bought the spices for the anointing.
The question here is, which Sabbath? A solid principle of Biblical interpretation, is to let the context answer any questions that it can, and not to assume something that the context does not verify. In Mark's narrative, we must go back to the last mentioned Sabbath, which is found in Mark 15:42. This verse literally states, "and evening now beginning, since it was preparation, which is before Sabbath." The Sabbath Mark is reporting here, is the Sabbath that was approaching at the time of the burial. This of course, is the Sabbath of the Fifteenth of Nisan, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was when this Sabbath had passed, that the women bought spices and then according to Luke 23:56, returned home to prepare them.
After preparing those spices, they then rested on the Sabbath,'according to the commandment '. If there was only one Sabbath, Mark's narrative and Luke's cannot be truly reconciled. The only way they can be, is that they both are pointing to the two Sabbaths, each in their own way.
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
"And it was a day (or a time) of preparation, also a Sabbath had began to commence" [my translation]. The verb 'drew on, commence' (ejpifwvskw), the same word used in Matt. 28:1, is in the Imperfect tense of the Greek. The Imperfect signifies continuous action in past time, with various applications. The only application of the Imperfect that makes sense in this context, is what is called the Inceptive Imperfect. This use of the Inceptive Imperfect emphasizes the initiation of the action, but not its completion, that is, it may denote the beginning of an action, or that which is upon the point of occurring.
This tells us that while they were at the tomb during the entombment of Jesus, the Sabbath had either just began, or was on the verge of beginning. So how could the women go and buy spices after a Sabbath had passed (Mark 16:1), then go home and prepare these spices, and afterwards rest on the Sabbath, according to the commandment (Luke 23:54-56), if there was only one Sabbath as tradition states? It just doesn't work. Tradition makes Luke and Mark liars.
But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done.
This portion of the Textual Analysis was deserving of its own page. So to read on about Luke 24:21, click here.