But what of the sign of Jonah - 3 days and 3 nights? That did perplex me for some time. Anyone who knows me well knows my bent toward literalism. It's taken these four years since my conversion to begin to absorb and appreciate the figures of speech and less than literal language frequently used in Scripture. I don't use hard literalism in my own daily speech, yet I'll hold Scripture to a different standard, applying wooden interpretations to Scripture - not unlike those who insisted against all evidence to the contrary that earth really is the center of our universe, because "the Bible says so". Yet we understand now that is not what the Scripture was saying at all. We tend to forget that in Scripture God communicates to humans through humans using humanity's own languages, styles, and patterns of speech. That is why the Bible is full of poetry, and narratives, and proverbs, and teachings and more.
That said, it was also clear to me that though the sign of Jonah troubled me, it clearly did not trouble the gospel writers. They wrote it and held to it after Jesus was in the tomb for Friday and Saturday nights only. They did not see it as a conflict at all. So what's up with that? Well, for a long time I just didn't know. So I tucked that Jonah passage away and stuck to the ones I did understand and that has carried me through just fine. The bulk of the passages regarding the timing of the resurrection (see Luke 9:22; 24:21,46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4) refer to it as "the Third Day". Now this is easy enough to grasp. Friday was the first day, Saturday the second, and He was raised on the third. I've been happy enough with that and still am. But, I'm also happy that today I received an article via e-mail which let me take the sign of Jonah off the shelf and put it back into commission. Now I get it. The article follows. If you've been wondering, perhaps it will clear things up for you, too.
Posted: 08 Apr 2009 06:44 AM PDT
Scripture clearly predicted in Matthew 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so the will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (cf. Jonah 1:17). But if our Lord was crucified on "Good Friday," that would not leave 72 hours (24 hrs. x 3 =72), but instead probably something more like 38 hours for our Lord to be in the tomb (Friday afternoon til midnight, 7-9 hours + Saturday 24 hrs. + four or five hours on = 36-38 hours total. That certainly does not equal three full days and three full nights of 72 hours.
However, notice I inserted the words "full" in each case, which of course is the way a Westerner would take a statement like "three days and three nights," but Scripture did not use this expression in the same way some of us might use it. However, what we miss is the fact that "three days and three nights" was a stereotypical phrase that allowed the full day and night to be counted when any part of that time was included.
For example, 1 Samuel 30:12 has the same formula of "three days and three nights" used by the Egyptian, whom David found as he was pursuring the Amalekites, who had captured and made off with all the women, children and elderly people David had left in his temporarily adopted home of Ziklag. The Egyptian turned out to be a slave to an Amalekite, who abandoned him when he became ill "three days ago" (1 Sam 30:13). The words translated by the NIV as "three days ago," literally translated from the Hebrew read: "Today is the third [day]" (Hebrew: hayyom sheloshah). Thus, he too used the "three days and three nights" stereotype formula, but clearly he did not mean three full days and three full nights, for on that very day, it was only day three!
Therefore, in accordance with this example and several others in Scripture, a part of a day, night, or year could be counted as a full day or night or year. Likewise, Solomon's navy was gone for three years (1 Kings 10:22), but it becomes clear that any part of a year counted as one year; thus his ships left about the fall of the year, were gone all the next year and returned in the third year about Passover time.
Therefore, it is not necessary to move the crucifixion back to "Good Wednesday" or "Good Thursday" in order to account for the 72 hours.