Friday, July 8, 2016

Luke and the Resurrection

By Anthony Buzzard

A measure of disagreement has arisen over the chronology of the Passover week in which Jesus died for our sins and the sins of the world. Luke has given a rather straightforward account of the day of Jesus’ resurrection. He lets us know, while dealing with a different subject, his method of counting days. He reports Jesus as saying, “I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach my goal” (Luke 13:32). The reckoning is inclusive: “today, tomorrow and the third day.” Luke had already recorded Jesus’ statement about his own resurrection: “The Son of Man must suffer…and be killed and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22). “On the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18:33). He must be crucified and “on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). In harmony with these plain statements Luke notes that Jesus was put to rest in the tomb on preparation day and that his friends rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment — a reference to Saturday. Then on the first day of the week, Sunday, they came to the tomb (Luke 23:54-24:1).

Consistent with this account Luke completes the story by telling us that the disciples who met Jesus on Sunday “hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Their hopes were fading because “today [Sunday] is the third day since these things happened.” The things in question were the crucifixion of Jesus: Jesus had said to them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19). They replied “…how our rulers delivered him up to death and crucified him” (Luke 24:20). Then they say: “Today is the third day since these things [the crucifixion] happened” (Luke 24:21). Sunday is of course the third day since Friday. Luke’s calculation follows his earlier statement in Luke 13:32 (above): “Today, tomorrow and the third day.” In reverse: Today [Sunday], yesterday and the third day since Sunday = Friday.

None of this would have been problematic, if Bible readers had taken note of the very Jewish idiom involved in the expression “three days and three nights” found in Matthew 12:40. To us English speakers of the 21st century that expression would mean a period longer than from Friday evening to Sunday morning. But what then of the rabbinical statement (around 100 AD)? 

“A day and a night constitute a season of time, 24 hours. And a part of such a season of 24 hours is to be counted as a whole season” (Rabbi Eliezer ben Azaryah).   

Strack Billerbeck add that a part of a month or a year is reckoned also as a whole month or year. Similarly a 12-hour season of time can mean a part of that period. If then we read Matthew 12:40 in its Jewish context it does not mean three full days and nights. Thus we avoid contradicting Luke.

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