Easter Bible Study

April 10, 2009 By: erik Category: Musings, Religion, Spain, USA 897 views

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thumbToday is Good Friday. Before you read the rest of this post, I want you to hold the answers to two questions in your head: 1) What day of the week did Jesus die? and 2) What day of the week was his tomb found empty? Got the answers? Good.

Yesterday at lunch, I had more or less the following discussion with my in-laws:

Me: “Mmmm! These are good beans! Is that a bit of a meaty flavor?”
Wife: “No. We’re not having meat today, tomorrow, or the next day.”
Me: “Why not?”
Wife: “Because Jesus is dead.”
Me: “Jesus has been dead for a long time.”
Wife: “Because Jesus is symbolically dead.”

. . . some bean consumption . . .

Me: “But Jesus isn’t even symbolically dead yet. He symbolically dies tomorrow on Good Friday.”
Mom-in-law: “It’s like the saying goes, ‘Christ died on Thursday, was buried on Friday, on Saturday came the glory, and on Sunday he ascended.'” [that’s loosely translated]
Me: “No, I’m pretty sure he died on Friday.”
Wife: [with a “drop it!” look on her face] “If the saying says it, it’s true for us!”
Me: “Okay.”

After lunch, I wandered over to the Good Friday wikipedia entry and saw that I had been correct. Christ died on Friday. Score one for me!

That night, as I was lying in bed, I started to think about this topic again. Something wasn’t right. Jesus was supposed to be dead for three days before disappearing, but there are only two days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Surely they don’t call it three days if he died at noon on Friday and was found missing on Sunday at dusk. That’s only 2 days and 6 hours! Could the Spanish saying of his Thursday death be correct? So I asked Google. It turns out the answer, like most things in The Bible, is fuzzy at best.

Apparently it’s really, really important that Jesus was dead for exactly three days and three nights, since that is how he promised to prove to his followers that he was the Messiah. So out goes the Friday to Sunday idea. What day did he die? Well, three different scriptures all say “the day before the Sabbath”. This leads most people to conclude that it was Friday. But apparently they used the term Sabbath for all kinds of religious holidays, such as the first day of Passover, no matter what day of the week it fell on. And not only that, but there are other references to there being multiple Sabbaths that week. There goes the Good Friday death theory.

Unfortunately, the same goes for the Sunday ascension. The two lines of scripture that relate the day of the week to finding Jesus’ tomb empty both say that it happened on the evening of the Sabbath, and thus probably on Saturday evening. Oops.

The most reasonable conclusion to me, given that any of this stuff is remotely true, is that he died on Wednesday, there was an irregular Sabbath on Thursday, and his tomb was found empty on Saturday evening, three days and three nights after his death. If you answered Wednesday and Saturday to the questions at the beginning of this post, pat yourself on the back and have a Cadbury Creme Egg.

Personally, I’m amazed that the details of something like the key to eternal salvation would be so poorly understood. It just goes to show how people like the idea so much that they actively try not to think about or investigate the details. Both my American cultural understanding and my family’s Spanish cultural understanding were flawed.

Happy Easter!

Most of my research for this post was done on this wonderfully detailed Bible study page.

  • Easter, more than any other holiday, baffles and exhausts me.

  • I imagine the “appalled” is tongue-in-cheek. I imaginethat most thinking Christians would say that it really doesn’t matter what the exact chronology of Jesus’s death and resurrection is. What’s important is that he died, and that he rose again.

    The ceremonial mechanics matter, of course—how else would people know when to be at church (or when to stop eating meat)? But I don’t really see any reason why this would need to match up precisely with the historical facts.

    Do you think your in-laws considered your remarks at lunch inconsiderate? From my reading of the exchange without actually knowing any of the people involved, it all sounds a bit awkward. I ask as a reader of your blog who also has a wife, a daughter and (more or less) in-laws. If your relationship with your in-laws is such that the conversation in the OP didn’t raise anyone’s blood pressure, then I would tend to think that it’s rare one, and I’d be curious to read more about it. (Or maybe you’ve covered this elsewhere?)

    I heard something alarming about Spain yesterday. Is it true that off-plan roaming with the major cellular carriers is in the neighborhood of 10 euro per minute? ¡Diablo! (From the context, it’s possible that the person who said it was only talking about calls from international waters.)

  • You’re right. Appalled is the wrong word. Surprised or confused would be better. What confuses me about the ignorance of believers of their own religion is that, if there were a capricious sky god that cared about how I lived my life and could sentence me to eternal agony or bliss depending on how well I followed his rules (which seems to be the gist of the Judeo-Christian religions) and he wrote a document about how to behave, I’d damned well know that document cover to cover and spend my days trying to convert non-believers. The fact that most believers just don’t care leads me to suspect that most of them don’t really believe that much. But perhaps I’m making it too black-and-white.

    As for social discomfort at the dining room table, these discussions always end in me asking questions to the point where they say, “I don’t know, I’m just telling you what I’ve always heard.” No one gets upset. We have the same conversation often with other confirmation-bias-fueled beliefs too. They know me to be a skeptic and aren’t surprised when I choose to disagree. In this case, the disagreement originated from an actual cultural disagreement between our two countries. Like Spaniards learn there are only five continents (??) and Americans learn there are seven. Differences like that happen and they fascinate me, even more so when both sides appear to have it wrong.

    I don’t know much about cell roaming charges here. My contract is with the Ma Bell monopoly, so I’m pretty well covered all over the peninsula. I’d be interested in a link to the article you read.

  • For some reason, I compulsively respond to this types of topics whenever I come across them.
    First of all, it’s worth noting that over the centuries, we likely have no idea what day of the week we are actually even on right now.

    Christ entered “the belly of the beast”, and began his Atonement on Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Friday night and Saturday night his body was locked inside a tomb. On Sunday morning he was resurrected, and began visiting people who knew him, in and around Jerusalem, during 40 days, before ascending, with the resurrected, tangible body, into heaven, and then he visited his “other flocks”, one of which was in the Americas.

    Resurrection itself is merely the way that all humans who have died on Earth will achieve immortality. Eternal salvation is available to all humans, but it is not just simply getting a new body after having died.

    It’s analogous to a harddrive. Eventually, every drive physically will stop functioning. In this analogy, the IT guy eventually transfers all the data to a new drive, probably an SSD, no matter what the data is.

    I love Easter. As with all the holidays, I enjoyed it as a kid more than I do now, and I kind of like seeing the funny mix of paganism, commercialism, fun, and Christianity. I wish there was more fun to it here in Spain. But mostly, I just like having a time to ponder the triumph over both physical death, and the opportunity to overcome, spiritual death.

  • First of all, Ray, if my commenting system allowed ratings, you’d get five stars for the hard drive analogy. Way to geekify religion! So is being faithful and repenting your sins every Sunday kind of like Time Machine backing up your data just in case your drive dies that week?

    Re: belly beast.. So you disagree with the lines referring to his tomb being found empty on the Sabbath?

    You’re not LDS are you? I thought the “visiting the Americas” concept was strictly a Mormon thing. Surely that concept appeared historically after, say 1492 AD, right?

    And I totally agree that the Spanish take away all the pagan fun that Americans have at Easter.

  • It’s a small point, but I guess if Jesus did walk in North America shortly after his resurrection, the concept goes back to roughly 0 A.D.

  • Yes, I know that. By “concept”, I meant “people started to believe that it happened”. How much record keeping was going on in 33 AD (not zero) America?

  • Re: empty on the Sabbath
    -Admittedly, I need to brush up, but the tomb was not found empty until sunrise, ending the Sabbath Saturday night – starting the Sunday Morning. During the Sabbath, the resurrection process may have begun by that time, leaving the tomb empty prior to Sunday morning, for all anyone knows, but the Atonement process, (Which resurrection is a part of,) didn’t finish until after sunrise Sunday morning (the first day of the week). It’s possible that the resurrection process doesn’t need the previous (dead) body in order to happen, but in any case, there was a being that was different enough from a normal human to get called an angel, but that could still communicate, that asked why Jesus’ friends were looking for him in a tomb.

    I am a “Mormon” and I do try to share my beliefs about salvation with people, which I did full time from ’96 to ’98, but only when it seems relavent nowadays. One thing that we believe is that the Gospel is for people, and brought to people by people, and that God uses multiple witness to any event that is supposed to play a part in His Gospel. Of course, as CSI or Law & Order will show us, multiple witnesses don’t always mean it makes it any easier to figure out what’s going on.

    It’s not a perfect metaphor, but personally I think of the weekly ritual at church to be like getting the latest firmware and updates for the controller inside hardrive, which I imagine is like a NAS attached wirelessly to the network. Prior to getting these updates, it is a good idea to scan the drive, remove any malware, stop unsafe practices, both for the physical drive and its electromagnetic data, and let the drive spin down afterwards, to rest up for the coming work week. Baptism is like purging the data on the disk of all unwanted files, Confirmation (baptism by fire) would be like enabling the 802.11n, (like you had to do with the Macs that came with 802.11a/b/g but you had to update to get n.) Repentance and Bible study are like a continual process of removing undesirable content and replacing or adding desirable content.
    It’s just an analogy, though, and not a very timeless one, as harddrives aren’t likely to make any sense to my grandkids.

    On an unrelated topic, I can’t wait for TRON 2.0

    The history recorded in the Book of Mormon would suggest that there was enough record keeping going on in the Americas to allow at least one book to survive until the 1800s. There are three main narratives in the book, and they are not presented to the reader in chronological order. The main story line branches out, eventually crossing the other two, minor narratives at different points in their progress. All three eventually merge, but all three die out many centuries before western civilization arrives on the continent, and the story only survives as a record, incised on sheets of metal (gold.)

    As for roaming? We have Orange movil accounts, and when my wife visited Morocco, she called me various times, some from Spain, some from Morocco. Some of the calls from Spain were billed with roaming, all the charges, including SMS, from within Morocco also were billed extra. It was about 8€ per minute, on average. Sickening, really. I don’t have the attention span to read through all the details of my ever-changing contract with them.

  • Another brilliant comment, Ray. I didn’t know that “Mormon” needed quotes. Is that considered a derogatory term? Pardon my ignorance.

    Indeed it does say, “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week”, which would imply Sunday morning. The problem is that if you subtract “three days and three nights” from Sunday morning, you get Thursday morning, and I thought he was on the cross and not yet dead at noon. I suppose we can cut him some slack for not making it the full 72 hours.

    About the Book of Mormon… Where in the Americas did Christ visit? North or South? What tribes knew about his visit? Did he speak their language? Why wasn’t he convincing enough to convert them like he was with people in the Middle East? Or did he just float around eerily and give the natives new respect for whatever they were smoking? The whole Joseph And The Metal Plates story adds a whole new level of “You’re kidding, right?” to the whole Christianity thing, in my opinion.

    What do your (presumably) Catholic wife and in-laws think of the Book of Mormon?

    One of these days, I plan on writing a blog post about how CSI and Law & Order are doing an excellent job of injecting critical thinking skills into the general populous. The whole “innocent until proven guilty” theme of the US judicial system is based on the null hypothesis and the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Thank you, Ray, for taking the time to participate in my rants and ravings. A contradictory voice adds volumes.

    Re: Tron 2.0, anything with Jeff Bridges and 13 has got to be good.

  • I doubt it’s meant in a derogatory way. The quotes are just a way for me to call attention to the fact that it’s just a nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-Day Saints.) (I throw a quotes and parentheses around a lot, for no good reason.)
    However I do agree Mormon is convenient, especially when you want to save time, or avoid naming God too frequently. Although LDS (or SUD) is quicker to type. Members of my religion get called Mormons, as can be expected, because of the extra book we use, alongside the Bible. The book gets its name from the man, who was kind of an ancient historian, or scribe, of his people, and his son, Moroni, who finished his father’s work. During the time that they were alive, the people who still believed that the Savior had visited them were being killed off by their enemies. Moroni believed he was the last of his kind, and while he was in hiding, he finished compiling the history of his people and religion, and hid it, as he was instructed

    The catch-22 with being a Mormon is that anything similar to the Bible gets criticized for being copied from it, and anything too different gets laughed off as being made up. But, as with religious belief in general, no church has a faith-building doctrine that doesn’t require just that, faith. Every religion seems just as absurd, in my opinion, it’s just that I cannot deny that I have received an answer when I asked God if He really exists, and if the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, as it is found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It is difficult to explain the answers that I have found, but they have always been accompanied by the strongest feeling and peaceful emotion that God exists, our consciousness was created by HIm, that Jesus really saved all of us from being forever separated from Him, and God actually does communicate directly, and through messengers, with a few individuals, of whom he also requires certain special responsibilities; in exchange, as it were. I wouldn’t want that responsibility, and I have a hard enough time just getting the courage up to type about it on the internet. Faith is faith, though. No empirical data. No reason, unless you accept the primary reason behind all of it: “Because God said so.” If you don’t, you don’t. I wish more people gave it a try, though.

    Was Jonas inside the whale a full 72 hours, who knows? Maybe, if it has to be precise, he was inside the whale exactly the same time that Christ endured the Atonement. It’s a nice detail that I wish we had more facts to go on. I see Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday Night, and Friday day, Saturday day, and Sunday day (granted, just after daybreak.) But, it’s faith, after all. Also, as a typical Mormon, it wouldn’t surprise me if this all gets clarified one day, even to the point that it is revealed that someone, somewhere mis-translated something.

    As a reference for Christ’s visit to America:


    To keep it short, Jesus descended down out of the clouds, and the people who had previously gathered around one of their temples, heard a voice that they didn’t understand at first, but then they understood. They touched him. I couldn’t say where He visited on the American continent, we don’t know. Same for language, how he was understood, which tribes, etc. Many did believe, many didn’t, (surprise, surprise.)

    400 years later, the fighting between the various groups “did them in.” I imagine that if the Romans had fed ALL the Christians to the lions, there would be no Catholic church in Europe today. Similarly, the descendants of the people who were visited by Christ in the Americas either died off, or stopped practicing.

    When I met my wife, she was a practicing Mormon, although she grew up Catholic. She says that my in-laws acted like they would disown her at first, and again when they found out she was marrying a foreigner, in his own country. But, when they got to know me, things seemed to be pretty normal. Many in her family are practicing Catholics, and strong believers, some are even Opus Dei, and all that, and they are not interested in talking about anything that we don’t share in common belief. A few are not practicing, and they don’t think that any church has the authority to act in God’s name anymore, not even the Catholic Church, and especially not mine. Most are just “Ni creo, ni dejo de creer” types, and much more interested in gossiping about each other, and telling each other how they would be living their lives, than talking religion, (which is sometimes a relief, actually.) Most of them pity me, and at the same time think I’m a sucker, for staying with her, despite the fact that she went clinically insane about a year after our marriage. I don’t enjoy many conversations with any of them, and I find it hard to keep up with which ones are shunning which other ones, and who it is forbidden to speak to this week. My wife does quite well on medication, and she very, very, very rarely misses a dose, but there is still a huge amount emotional and mental instability, and it’s easy to get everything all messed up. The good times have always been great, sublime. She did a tremendous amount of weed as a teenager, which she blames for the paranoid schizophrenia, and recently they’ve discovered a hormone imbalance, that presumably could be from residual pituitary damage from taking such high doses of med’s for so long, or even from a bad batch of X she did prior to meeting me, that landed her in the hospital. We’ll be hitting our 10 year anniversary in August. Yeah, us. Thank God his answer was “no” when we wanted kids during the first year. I don’t think it would be fair to bring them into our situation.

    I remember when we watched Tron and my dad mentioned that the guy who started Chuck E. Cheese also helped start Atari, and that he went to our church. I wouldn’t be living up to the stereotype of a typical Mormon if I didn’t mention that Battlestar Galactica started out as another Mormon’s scifi stories, and that the author of Ender’s Game is a member, also.

    Anyways, I’m glad to have a great place like your blog to comment in. Lots of volume, sure. I just wish there was a way to say more, without taking up so much volume.

  • Wow. Thanks for that, Ray. I’m not converted or anything, of course, but I feel like I know you better, and for that I’m glad.

    I haven’t yet seen any Battlestar Galactica. I keep getting it confused with Battlefield Earth, which belongs to another more modern religion.

  • Lucky you.

    You have a stranger living vicariously through your webpage.

  • Tr

    Here I was going to simply place a comment about the inconveniences presented when we consider the different calendars used back when the pour boy was nailed up to the cross, but then I find in the comments section that Jesus actually visited America!

    Gives the whole idea of walking on water a whole new twist now, doesn’t it?

  • Right. Like Jesus can’t time travel.

  • bible sweepstakes

    Easter is such a joyous because it binds families with lots of activities and most importantly it is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

  • Swiss-Canadian girl

    Hi Erik
    Its almost a year ago since the “discussion” on Easter. I was just searching around a bit this year and found interesting information about how the Hebrew thinking about three days and three nights is ment. Maybe it will interest you…
    Kind regards from a Swiss girl living in Canada!

    http://www.goodnews.webarea.co.uk/info/sermonette-threedays.html. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 9 Mar 2010 04:45:44 GMT.

    How Long Was Jesus In The Grave?

    One of the most vital things to a Christian is to know completely that Jesus Christ is Lord.
    You will at some time be asked to give an answer for the hope that is within you.
    That’s when the questions comes up – “Is what I understand the truth?” “How do I know that Jesus is the savior of the world?”
    The simple answer is that Jesus fulfilled every prophesy about the Messiah in the bible! Throughout the New Testament reference is constantly made to the things that Jesus did and how they matched exactly to what had been said beforehand.
    But someone may ask you – “I thought Jesus said the proof was that he would be in the grave for ‘three days and three nights’?” “I don’t see three days and three nights between Friday night and Sunday morning!”
    Well the first thing we have to realise is that we are attempting to get into the mind-set of a different culture so we have to learn to see things the way they did. And secondly, we should follow the evidence logically applying the same rules in all similar circumstances.
    So let’s see what scriptures refer to the time of Christ’s death and the period up to his resurrection. These will help us build a time-line like they do on CSI!
    21 Bible verses overall in the 4 Gospels give details of the time period of Christ’s burial, and there are an additional 2 verses (Acts 10:40 and I Cor. 15:4) which quote “the third day”.
    What’s said in the KJ Bible No. of times
    “the third day” 14
    “in three days” 4
    “after three days” 2
    “three days” 1
    “within three days” 1
    “three days and three nights” 1
    TOTAL: 23

    We see straight away from this that only one scripture out of the 23 refers to ‘three days and three nights’ and implies a 72-hour period. The other 22 verses fit with the normal explanation of parts of three days for Christ’s burial period, perfectly.
    So we need to find out how the Hebrews used the term ‘three days and three night’ and what they meant by it.
    At this point it might be wise to check if anywhere in the bible someone does something for a short period like 3 days and nights and we can see how they used the time. This would enable us to pin down the Hebrew thinking regarding the term ‘night and day’.
    Let’s look at the Book of Esther.
    There came a time when Esther had to approach the King of Persia and ask a favour to save her nation. She requested that all the Jews in the town of Susa would fast for three days, night and day, to petition God. She, Esther would also fast for three days and three nights and afterwards go in to see the King.
    Esth 4:15-17 “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” “Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.”
    Yet ON the third day she went in to see the King and sat down to enjoy a banquet she invited him to!
    Esth 5:1-4 “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.”
    Now if the saying ‘three days and three nights’ or ‘three days, night and day’ meant 72 hours to the Eastern mind, Esther should have waited untill the fourth day before going to see the King! The fact that she didn’t but went within 72 hours shows that three days and three night to the Hebrew mind did not mean 72 hours! In their culture any part of a day counted as the day and night.
    So even though to us with our Western mindset ‘three days and three nights’ means 72 hours we find that the Hebrew mindset was different to ours and to them it meant the same thing as ‘on the third day’!
    So, now that we’ve established the timespan we can continue drawing the timeline.
    The easiest point to establish from the internal bible evidence is the end day. If we look at Luke 24:7-21 we see two men (and Jesus!) discussing the events surrounding Christ’s death. They tell us (and Jesus) that the Christ was to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, crucified, and then rise the third day. They then say, –
    “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.”
    Now the day that they were saying these things on was Sunday, and Christ is quite happy to accept that this is the third day since he died. So we have proof positive that the last day of the three day time period of Christ being in the grave is SUNDAY.
    Despite this straightforward evidence some, still thinking in terms of 72 hours, may like to claim that Christ was resurected on Saturday afternoon, but this is easily disproved. Look at Matt 28:1-4.
    Mat 28:1-4 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
    Notice that the Guards are still at their posts on Sunday morning at dawn. If the ‘three days and three nights’ period ended on Saturday afternoon, then with nothing happening at the tomb the Sanhedrin and the Guards could tell the world that Christ did not fulfil his claim to rise again the third day!
    What’s more, with their job done the Guards would have gone home! What are they doing at the tomb on Sunday morning if Sunday is supposedly the fourth day? Unpaid night-time overtime? And what is the point of the earthquake (bookending the one when Christ died) and the Angel rolling back the stone, 12 hours too late for showing that Christ had kept his promise?
    No, SUNDAY is day 3 as proven in Luke 24:7-21 and we just have to count backwards till we come to day 1 to get the start point. That is FRIDAY and so we have the complete timeline for Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. From the events around his death we know that took place in the afternoon of Friday and from the events that occurred on Sunday morning like the earthquake to mark the event as it began to dawn, we know Jesus was resurrected on Sunday morning.
    An adulterous generation who did not believe all the other signs and wonders in Jesus’ life which showed that Jesus was Lord, was given the sign of Jonah. And, even that sign trips them up!
    We need to remember always though, that what is of primary importance is not the time Jesus was in the grave, but as Paul says in 1 Cor 15:3-4 –
    1 Cor 15:3-4 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”
    What is important to know is that Christ died for our sins and was resurrected as proof that we, trusting in him, can have eternal life. And, throughout the New Testament as Christ’s life is unfolded there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus is our Savior!
    Attlee Brathwaite