Vol. 23 New Series April, 1961 No. 2
"THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS"

A friend has sent me a copy of the January-February issue 1960, of THE GATHERING CALL, Riverside, California. Most of this is taken up with a long article on "The Creation and Redemption Sabbaths," by Miss Grace H. Todd, of Corona, California. One page is a reprint from Eternity Magazine, by the late Donald G. Barnhouse.

Miss Todd details the three ways in which the Lord expressed the time of His death and His resurrection, thus: 1. "So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). In Appendix 144 of the Companion Bible (Dr. Bullinger's) we find this comment, "The fact that 'three days' is used by Hebrew idiom for any part of three days and three nights is not disputed, because that was the common way of reckoning, just as it was when used of years. Three, or any number of years was used inclusively of any part of those years, as may be seen in the reckoning of the reigns of many of the kings of Israel and Judah. But when the number of 'nights' is stated as well as the number of 'days,' then the expression ceases to be an idiom and becomes a literal statement of fact."

2. "And on the third day He will rise again" (Matt. 20:19; Luke 18:33). "Matt. 28:1 tells us that He rose 'late on Sabbaths.' The entombment included two Sabbaths, the Sabbath which commemorated redemption from the bondage in Egypt, and the seventh day Sabbath which commemorated creation. It may be well to note that the plan of redemption preceded creation." 3. "And after three days He will rise again" (Matt. 27:63; Mark 10:34).

Sir Robert Anderson, however, gave an explanation of Matt. 12:40 in his book, "Misunderstood Texts of the New Testament" (1916), which was quite different from that of Dr. Bullinger. He said, "But Matthew 27:63-64 would settle the question, even if it stood alone. Four-and-twenty hours after the Lord's burial, the Jews came to Pilate and said, 'We remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day." Sir Robert then adds, that "if that day had passed, leaving the seal upon the tomb unbroken, the guard would have been withdrawn, and the Pharisees would have proclaimed their triumph. In nine passages do the Gospels record His words that He would rise 'on the third day;' and in 1. Corinthians 15:4 the Apostle Paul proclaimed the fact as an integral part of the gospel."

Sir Robert was of Scottish descent, but born in Dublin, his father being Crown Solicitor there. Later on Sir Robert became Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard, London. Thus he was able to say that in Britain, under a sentence of three days' imprisonment a prisoner is usually discharged on the morning of the third day, no matter how late on the first day he reaches the prison. Under such a sentence a prisoner is seldom more than forty hours in gaol, and he knew of cases where the detention was only for thirty-three hours. Of course Sir Robert means that British Law was not necessarily the same as Roman or Hebrew Law.

Now Dr. Bullinger, in his Appendix 144, quoted from 1. Samuel 30:12 and Esther 4:16 and 5:1. Sir Robert also quoted from these verses. But a more strange fact is that both of them also referred to the works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D.D. (1602-1675), Dr. Bullinger quoting one statement in his Appendix No. 148, where he quotes from Lightfoot's vol. 12, which I have verified as I have that volume, namely, a Talmudic tradition that mourning for the dead culminated on "the third day," because the spirit was not supposed to have finally departed till then.

Sir Robert's quotation from Lightfoot of a Jewish saying is as follows: "A day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole," and he adds, "Therefore, Christ may truly be said to have been in the grave three Onoth." Sir Robert then says: "To object that as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, the Lord must have been in the grave for that full period is a transparent blunder; for, of course, the period intended in the Jonah narrative must be computed in accordance with "the dialect of the nation" (Lightfoot).

Dr. Bullinger died in 1913, and Sir Robert published his book in 1916. So it looks as though the latter was correcting the former after his death.

1. SAMUEL 30:11-13
I render this as follows: "And they are finding a man, an Egyptian, in the field, and they are taking him unto David" and are giving him food. And he is eating, and they are causing him to drink water. And they are giving him a piece of a cake of figs and two cakes of raisins, and he is eating. And his spirit is coming back into him, for he eats not nor drinks water three days and three nights. And David is saying to him: "whose art thou, and whence art thou?' And he is saying, 'A young Egyptian am I, servant to a man, an Amalekite, and my Lord is leaving me behind, because I fell sick the third day.'"

Sir Robert Anderson therefore adds, "and yet it was only three days since he had fallen sick."

2. CHRONICLES 10:5 and 12
Rehoboam said to the Israelites: "Yet three days and then return unto me,—and the people departed. . . . . So Jeroboam and all the people came unto Rehoboam on the third day,—as the king spake, saying, 'Return unto me on the third day.'"

ESTHER 4:16 and 5:1
"Go! gather ye together all the Jews who are to be found in Shusan, and fast ye for me-and neither eat nor drink three days, night nor day, and I and my maidens will fast so . . . . And it came to pass on the third day that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the house of the king. . .." On that same third day Esther prepared a great banquet at which the king and Haman were present.


Thomas Hartwell Horne was a famous theologian, born in 1780 in London, who died in 1862. In 1818 he published some volumes on the Scriptures, and further editions were published even in 1877. Philip Schaff's Religious Encyclopedia of 1883 greatly praised Horne's work.

Horne mentions Abenezra, famous Spanish Jew (1092—1167), in connection with Leviticus 12:3. "If an infant were born in the last hour of the day, such hour was counted for one whole day. This observation critically reconciles the account of our Lord's resurrection in Matt. 27:63 and Mark 8:31, 'three days after,' with that of his resurrection 'on the third day,' according to Matt. 16:21, Luke 9:22." He goes on to say that the "three days and three nights" did not exceed 42 hours, and that the same mode of computing time obtains in the East, to this day. He gave a fine example. A gentleman named John Howard arrived at Constantinople, and was told that the grand chamberlain of that city, whose duty it was to supply the inhabitants with bread, had been beheaded in the public street, for having furnished loaves short of weight. When Mr. Howard was told the body had lain there for three days, he was surprised that it had not bred a contagion. But he was told that the body had not lain so long. The beheading was done in the evening of the first day; the body lay all the second day; and was removed early on the third day.

James Morison, D.D., on Matthew (1870) says on ch. 12:40 that the expression "three days and three nights" is "an elastic Hebrew idiom, representing a space of time that might, indeed cover three complete days and three complete nights, but that might also shrink considerably, both at the beginning and at the ending. Originally it would denote three full days and three full nights; but in everyday usage it got rubbed down, and was freely employed if the middle day and night were complete, though only portions of the other two were added. Hence too, in our English idiom, this day eight days and this day se'nnight (or seven-nights) denote exactly the same length of time. So in French, huit jours,—just as the German acht Tage, the Dutch acht dagen, the Danish otte dage,—means se'nnight; and fortnight (or fourteen nights) is quinze jours or fifteen days."

Morison has a similar remark in his volume on Mark, (1876) at ch. 8:31, while he explains ch. 14:58, where the Jews said, "We hear Him saying that 'I shall be demolishing this temple made by hand, and within (C.V. during) three days I shall be building another not made with hands.'" Morison adds, "Of course the Saviour never made any such statement." But the Jews evidently meant nothing longer than three days.

Meyer, on Matthew, says concerning ch. 12:40, "Jesus was dead only a day and two nights." Then he explains that the parts of the first and third day are counted as whole days.


It was very unfortunate that Miss Grace H. Todd changed the Greek expression, "one (day) of sabbaths" (mian sabbatOn) into "one from Sabbaths," or, "one (day) from Sabbaths," in eleven cases. In all these cases the word for Sabbath or Sabbaths is in the genitive case, so it must mean "of Sabbaths." When we say, "Son of God" we do not mean "Son from God."

It is extraordinary that the Revised Standard Version (1953) reads at Matthew 28:1, "Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week. . . .." The Concordant Version (Revised 1944) reads "Now (it is the). .evening of (the) sabbaths. (At) the lighting up into one of (the) sabbath (days). . . ."

Tyndale (1534) reads: "The Sabbath daye at even which launeth the morowe after the Sabbath. . .." Cranmer reads (1539): "Upon an evening of the Sabbothes, which dawneth the fyrst daye of the Sabbathes. . .." The Rheims version (1582) reads: "And in the evening of the Sabbath which dawneth on the first of the Sabbath. . . ."

These last three are very much better than the Revised Standard Version. Indeed the RS. Version reads at Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; and Acts 20:7, "on the first day of the week;" while at 1. Cor. 16:2, it reads "on the first day of every week;" and at Mark 2:23, it reads "one sabbath" (Greek, in the sabbaths); and at Luke 13:10, "on the sabbath;" and at Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14; and 16:13, it reads "on the sabbath day." And yet in these last nine verses what the Greek says is in every case the plural of the word "sabbath." In the Greek New Testament there is no word for week.

Another idea is presented in a booklet published by the Wesley Bible Union about thirty years ago, by Norman S. Denham, D.Litt., on "What was the Day of the Crucifixion? ." He says "Our Lord did not come to raise Lazarus until the fourth day. Our Lord was dead for approximately three-and a-half-days. . .." Now John 11:39 states that Martha said to the Lord, "Lord, he is already stinking, for it is a fourth day." Lazarus might only have been dead for three days and a fraction. Must we, then, say that the Lord's body was decayed in three and a half days?

A.T. Last updated 12.11.2005