Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday and the sign of Jonah

A few days ago, Andrew Tallman discussed on his radio show the chronological inconsistency between Christianity's traditional Good Friday observance of the crucifixion and the words of Jesus:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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.

~ Matthew 12:38-40
Here's the inconsistency:
  • Jesus said He would be in the heart of the earth (i.e., the grave) for three days and three nights; and
  • The resurrection occurred on the first day of the week (what we call Sunday — see Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20).
  • How, then, could He have been crucified and buried on the sixth day (Friday)?
The usual response I've heard from pastors and other Bible teachers over the years is that, in Hebrew chronology, any part of a day is considered a full "day" when reckoning time. Thus, since Jesus was in the grave for part of the sixth day of the week, all of the seventh day, and part of the first day, He was effectively in the grave for three "days." But no matter how you slice it, this reckoning contradicts Jesus' very specific words in Matt. 12 — "three days and three nights."

Andrew Tallman said that the scriptural testimony suggests a possible fourth-day (Wednesday) crucifixion and burial. He referenced supporting articles here, here and here — the last being "the one I thought was the most comprehensive (although I'm not a fan of their style of presentation)."

I have yet to read these three pieces — I intend to do so today. But back in 1988, I read the article "Good Thursday" by James McKeever, in which he suggests a fifth-day (Thursday) crucifixion and burial. The piece has always stuck with me, and I've posted it for your consideration.

You might well ask, "Why is this even an issue?"

One of the five "solas" of the Protestant Reformation is sola scriptura — "by scripture alone." As a Protestant who converted from Roman Catholicism some 26 years ago, I've only begun to reconsider and appreciate the fullness of church history and tradition in the last eight years or so. (That includes her history and tradition prior to the Reformation — Church history doesn't begin with Martin Luther!) The Reformers did not seek to utterly tear down the Roman Catholic church and build a new work in her place, but rather to reform her by holding her to the ultimate authority of Scripture — even over church tradition.

If reformed Protestant, catholic (small "c") churches intend to perpetuate this vital aspect of the Reformation, we should begin discussing the authority of Scripture even in such mundane matters as the church's traditional days of religious observance.

The Protestant church is right to critique aspects of Roman Catholic tradition that contradict the Scriptures — e.g., priestly celibacy, or the immaculate conception and bodily assumption of Mary. Maybe we think we can give Good Friday a "pass" because we don't consider it as weighty a matter. But if we merely perpetuate Good Friday observance apart from the biblical testimony, aren't we just as guilty of holding to tradition rather than the Scriptures?

And by the way, a church that professes sola scriptura and makes every effort to comport itself accordingly — even regarding our religious observance of days — is more credible in the eyes of a watching world.

After all, unbelievers can count, too.


Matt said...

I stumble onto this site by randomly hitting the "next blog" button on the nav bar and wow... I wasn't expecting to find something like this.
Very interesting post, though. I have wondered about this myself on occasion. Personally, I'm horrible at counting days. What you say here makes sense, but I don't think we're going to get the church at large to change to a more accurate view. I'm not even sure that's important. For example, historians and Bible scholars tell us that the Birth of Jesus was probably in spring, but nobody's going to want to change Christmas now. I think the important thing is to remember and observe the holiday for what it is.

Frank said...

Matt -

Wow! "Next blog," huh? "Providence Happens," I guess!

To be clear, I don't necessarily think this is a major issue, the next big think for the church to try and "tackle." It is a small thing ... but then, he who is faithful in small things shall rule over greater things. (And it is the little foxes that spoil the vine.)

Thanks for your comments. Check in again sometime! (And I'll give your blog a look as well.)