On What Day Was Jesus Crucified?

 Most people accept without question the idea that Jesus was crucified on “Good Friday.” In our culture (the Cayman Islands), Good Friday is a government holiday, with government offices and most stores closed, as well as most churches holding special services. The website gotquestions.org points out that “The Bible does not explicitly state on which day of the week Jesus was crucified.” They explain the possibilities, saying, “The two most widely held views are Friday and Wednesday. Some, however, using a synthesis of both the Friday and Wednesday arguments, argue for Thursday as the day.” Our purpose is to briefly examine the three possibilities and share our conclusion.

The first view we consider is the traditional Friday crucifixion. Bible-truth.org states,

There is much debate as to what day He was crucified. Most of us were taught Friday was the day Jesus was crucified and this has been widely accepted as the traditional day of crucifixion. But if Christ was crucified on Friday, how was He in the grave for three days and three nights as Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 He would be?

Albert Barnes answers this question by saying,

It will be seen, in the account of the resurrection of Christ, that he was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matt. 28:6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had not been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet; for it was well known to them that he had spoken this prophecy, Matt. 27:63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was meant by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chron. 10:5-12, Gen. 42:17, 18. Comp. Est. 4:16 with Est. 5:1.

MacArthur agrees, saying “Jesus’ use of three days and three nights does not have to be interpreted as 72 hours, three full 24-hour days. The Jewish Talmud held that ‘any part of a day is as the whole.’” He then adds that “Jesus was simply using a common, well-understood generalization.” MacArthur adds,

Jesus died much sooner than was normal for victims of crucifixion. He was crucified at the third hour, or 9:00 a.m. (Mark 15:25) and died at the ninth hour, or 3:00 p.m. (v. 34). Thus Jesus was on the cross for only about six hours. Most people who were crucified lingered for two or three days; both the robbers crucified alongside Jesus, for example, were still alive after He died (19:32).

In an act of blatant, nauseating hypocrisy, the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. It was getting late in the afternoon on the day of preparation (for the Sabbath; i.e., Friday). They were concerned that the bodies of Jesus and the two robbers not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, which began at sundown. The Romans usually left the bodies of crucified individuals to rot, or be eaten by scavenging birds or animals. That particular Sabbath was a high day (because it was the Sabbath of Passover week), heightening the Jewish leaders’ concern, which evidently stemmed from Deut. 21:22-23. To leave the bodies exposed on the crosses would, in their minds, defile the land.

Another view, though less popular than the Friday crucifixion, states that Jesus died on Thursday. The website gotquestions.org says,

Thursday argument expands on the Friday view and argues mainly that there are too many events (some count as many as twenty) happening between Christ’s burial and Sunday morning to occur from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Proponents of the Thursday view point out that this is especially a problem when the only full day between Friday and Sunday was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. An extra day or two eliminates that problem.

Those holding to the Wednesday crucifixion opinion state that there were two Sabbaths the week Jesus died. Gotquestions.org says,

After the first one (the one that occurred on the evening of the crucifixion [Mark 15:42; Luke 23:52-54]), the women purchased spices—note that they made their purchase after the Sabbath (Mark 16:1). The Wednesday view holds that this “Sabbath” was the Passover (see Lev. 16:29-31, 23:24-32, 39, where high holy days that are not necessarily the seventh day of the week are referred to as the Sabbath). The second Sabbath that week was the normal weekly Sabbath. Note that in Luke 23:56, the women who had purchased spices after the first Sabbath returned and prepared the spices, then “rested on the Sabbath.” The argument states that they could not purchase the spices after the Sabbath, yet prepare those spices before the Sabbath—unless there were two Sabbaths. With the two-Sabbath view, if Christ was crucified on Thursday, then the high holy Sabbath (the Passover) would have begun Thursday at sundown and ended at Friday sundown—at the beginning of the weekly Sabbath or Saturday. Purchasing the spices after the first Sabbath (Passover) would have meant they purchased them on Saturday and were breaking the Sabbath.

Gotquestions.org, concludes “Therefore, according to the Wednesday viewpoint, the only explanation that does not violate the biblical account of the women and the spices and holds to a literal understanding of Matt. 12:40, is that Christ was crucified on Wednesday.”

Bible-truth.org concurs,

If Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath, (Nisan 14 or “Erev Pasach” how could He have been crucified on Wednesday? The answer lies in the fact that the Jews celebrated more Sabbaths than just the weekly Sabbath. They had a number of feast days that were “High Sabbaths,” or high days. Jesus arose on the first day of the week after the Sabbaths* (plural). Sometime after 6 p.m. Saturday, end of the Jewish day, in Matthew 28:1 we read; “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.”

Bible-truth.org also argues that a Wednesday crucifixion is demanded, after weighing the evidence. They say,

This is the only view that fits the biblical account is that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday and buried before 6:00 PM that day. The Jewish day began at 6:00 PM which was the Passover (Nisan “Aviv” 14). Therefore the Passover began on Wednesday after 6:00 PM which would actually be Thursday in the Julian calendar. The women brought the spices on Friday, rested on Saturday and went on Sunday morning after 6:00 AM and found the Lord was resurrected. This is the series of events and is accord with Jesus’ states of Matthew 12:38-40. Jesus was in the grave three full days and three nights. Any other view violates the biblical account and the historical facts.

The Abide in Christ website also argues for a Wednesday crucifixion, stating that

Jesus was crucified on a Passover day, which was the preparation day, and was buried at the sunset. Then, there were an unleavened feast Sabbath day, a regular day and a seventh day Sabbath before resurrection. The seventh day Sabbath was Saturday, the regular day must have been Friday, the unleavened feast Sabbath must have been on Thursday, and Wednesday must have been the day that Jesus was crucified. In the same way we can also see that his resurrection was also immediately after the sunset on Saturday Sabbath, even though people found that out before early dawn, which was still night.

Bible-truth.org states that “No one disputes that Jesus arose on Sunday morning.” That does not seem to be the case, however, as Mark 16 simply says that when the women came to the tomb “very early in the morning the first day of the week,” Jesus was not there – He had already risen (vv. 1-2, 6).

After carefully researching the question “What day of the week was the day Jesus was crucified?” it seems the best answer is that Jesus probably was crucified Wednesday, was buried before sundown, and arose sometime during the night or early morning of the first day of the week (Sunday). Even if Christ had risen Saturday night (as Scott Ashley suggests), that would still be the first day of the week in the Jewish way of reckoning days (evening and morning).

Gotquestions.org seems to acknowledge the difficulty in solving the question beyond debate, and close their remarks with a fitting quote saying,

In the grand scheme of things, it is not all that important to know what day of the week Christ was crucified. If it were very important, then God’s Word would have clearly communicated the day and time frame. What is important is that He did die and that He physically, bodily rose from the dead. What is equally important is the reason He died—to take the punishment that all sinners deserve. John 3:16and 3:36both proclaim that putting your trust in Him results in eternal life! This is equally true whether He was crucified on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

 

REFERENCES

Barnes, Albert, Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical, ed. Robert Frew WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

MacArthur, John, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew 8-15, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

What Day Was Christ Crucified?” Bible-truth.org. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.bible-truth.org/WhatDayDidChristDie.html>

Ashley, Scott. “Jesus Wasn’t Crucified on a Friday or Resurrected on Sunday – How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb?” The Good News: A Magazine of Understanding. UCG.ORG. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.ucg.org/doctrinal-beliefs/jesus-wasnt-crucified-friday-or-resurrected-sunday/>

Was Jesus Crucified on a Friday?” Abide in Christ. 29 March, 2013. < http://www.abideinchrist.info/crucified.html>

On What Day Was Jesus Crucified?” GotQuestions.org. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.gotquestions.org/three-days.html>

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