In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4). While Israel’s Scriptures never precisely state that “the Messiah will be raised from the dead on the third day,” the apostle has good reason to draw such a conclusion: the biblical authors present the “third day” as a climactic moment associated with divine activity, and Paul is not the only ancient Jewish thinker to associate the third day with resurrection.

Throughout Israel’s history, important things occur on the third day. For instance, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Moriah, “on the third day (יום השׁלישׁי; yom ha’shelishi) Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar” (Gen 22:4). Also, Moses tells the Hebrews, “Be ready for the third day (יום השׁלישׁי; yom ha’shelishi). For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod 19:11). Perhaps most relevant from a New Testament perspective, the fish vomits Jonah out of its belly after “three days and three nights” (שׁלשׁה ימים ושׁלשׁה לילות; sheloshah yamim u’sheloshah leylot; Jonah 1:17), and Jesus notes that “just 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” prior to resurrection (Matt 12:40).

Beyond these instances, Paul may have had another verse in mind when thinking about Yeshua’s resurrection. According to Hosea, “After two days [the Lord] will revive us; on the third day (יום השׁלישׁי; yom ha’shelishi) he will raise us up, so that we may live before him” (6:2). In ancient Judaism, Hosea’s words were understood as referring to resurrection. The corpus of Jewish translations from Hebrew into Aramaic – called the Targums – replaces Hosea’s original phrase, “on the third day he will raise us up,” with the declaration, “on the day of the resurrection of the dead (יום אחיות מיתיא; yom ahayut mitaya) he will raise us up that we may live before him” (HosTg 6:2). The Aramaic version of Hosea, written slightly after Paul’s time, equates the “third day” explicitly with “the day of the resurrection of the dead.” Paul’s belief in the biblical precedent for his Messiah’s resurrection may be rooted in an equation between the “third day” and “resurrection” similar to the one in the later Targum. In light of the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish translational tradition, Paul has ample support for his assertion that the timing of Jesus’ resurrection was “in accordance with the Scriptures.”

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39 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome comment; thank you. I do tend to think that the reference in Matthew to Jonah might have a different meaning than the writer of Matthew attributes to it (if it was spoken by Jesus) in that Jonah ended up persuading Gentiles

    • Thanks, John. Yes, Matthew alludes to both phenomena: in 12:40 there’s the reference to Jonah three days in the fish, and then in 12:41 there’s reference to the repentance of the Ninevites (i.e., Gentiles). Luke is even more explicit on the latter point than Matthew: “For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation…. The men of Nineveh… repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Lk 11:30-32).

  2. Pls…tell me what does the 3day in scripture has meaning for us as today believers….i also thought about this many times…but never got clearance on this 3 day thing…lol.

  3. To be clear, the point of your article is to validate the use of Paul’s phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Since, “Israel’s Scriptures never precisely state that”. Your intent is not to delve into which day of the week the resurrection occurred, correct?
    J.

    • The above article does not comment on which day of the week Jesus was crucified. The chronology is slightly different between the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Gospel of John. While a Wednesday has been proposed, this comes from too rigid a reading of Matt 12:40, which doesn’t describe “full” days and nights, but rather parts thereof. In John, he dies on the day the Passover lambs are sacrificed (Jn 19:14, 31), but in the Synoptics he has his Last Supper with his disciples “when they sacrifice the Passover lamb” (Mk 14:12).

      • I don’t understand how anyone can accept the idea of different chronologies across the gospels. Different ways of expressing the same chronology, yes. The events happened only one way; these men were too close to the events to make mistakes in the telling. Otherwise, we cannot believe them at all.

        • Neville, I appreciate your position and understand why you hold to it. While it’s not impossible to reconcile the chronologies in the accounts, I think that we can allow for slightly more wiggle room between the many, but relatively minor, differences in the Gospels and still maintain robust faith in the historical Jesus and his theological import as the Messiah.

          • Dr. Schaser, have you heard the theory that the Galileans could have celebrated Passover a day earlier than the Judeans? Could you comment on that?

          • Thanks for your question, Brian. Yes, I’ve heard the theory, but haven’t spent any time studying the issue. I’m a little surprised that the day of Jesus’ death is the direction the comments are going, since the above article doesn’t discuss the topic 🙂

          • FWIW, I did not intend to help it along in that direction. My concern is with viewing the gospel writers as playing fast and loose with facts in order to highlight their particular viewpoints/philosophies. If factual event X happened on day Y, all reports must agree (to be believable).

          • No worries, Neville. Again, I appreciate your position. Here’s mine: the so-called law of non-contradiction is founded on Aristotelean logic. In the modern West, the law of non-contradiction steers our assumptions about knowledge and history. However, the Jews who wrote the Bible were not beholden to Greek philosophical thought in the same way; to the contrary, the Bible can include differing renditions within the same canon, and yet early Jews did not abandon their convictions. Rather than forcing a Hellenized epistemology onto the biblical text, serious Scripture readers must be willing to allow the Judaic approach to work on them.

          • Then call me Helen 🙂 I suppose I’ll never reach that “serious Scripture reader” level.

            If you were to read in one account that Yeshua was crucified to death, but in another account that he was boiled to death in hot oil, would you be able to trust both writers?

          • Forgive me, Neville 🙂 I didn’t mean to suggest that you weren’t a serious reader of Scripture. I use the phrase as a paradigm that readers should continue to shoot for (myself included). It would be tough to untangle the dichotomous records of Jesus’ death that you offer above. Thankfully, the Gospels don’t contain this level of difference, but differences do exist. For instance, does Simon of Cyrene carry Jesus’ cross (Lk 23:26) or does Jesus carry his own cross (Jn 19:17)? Does Jesus go up a mountain to escape the crowds before he gives his sermon (Matt 5:1) or does he come down from a mountain to meet the crowds on “level ground” (Lk 6:17)? These questions are not meant to undermine Jesus’ historicity or theological accomplishment — I hold to both strongly. But from my perspective, when we try to level-out differences between the Gospels, we run roughshod over each writer’s particular presentation and thereby do violence to authorial intent. More, if we believe that God inspired the writers to fashion their accounts in their own particular ways, then we also deny the dynamics of divine intentionality when we bypass particularities. Christians often suppose that by “reconciling” differences between texts they are taking the “conservative” approach but, in reality, this approach does not “conserve” what’s actually written in the texts. Personally, I try my best (and it’s not always easy) to let the texts speak for themselves rather than force them down to my own cognitive comfort level.

          • Thank you for all the responses. I very much appreciate your thoughts. I will think on what you’ve said. Shabbat shalom

          • It’s a pleasure to dialogue with you, Neville. I appreciate all of your input and participation in our discussions 🙂

    • The word “Friday” doesn’t appear in John, since this was not a word in 1st century Judea, but Friday is the most common day posited among scholars — as with most things in NT scholarship, there is debate on this point. The chronologies differ among the Gospels, and there are various way to reconstruct the timeline. John says that Jesus dies on the “day of Preparation” for the Passover celebration (Jn 19:14). More, there is concern about getting Jesus’ body off the cross before the Sabbath; if this was a standard Saturday Sabbath, then Jesus dies on what we would call “Friday” (Jn 19:31). I’m not dogmatic about the day of the week on which Jesus dies.

  4. Dr. Schaser, thank you for this insight. We forget ancient Jews had different ways of interpretation. We Westerners want to see book, chapter and verse where it explicitly says such and such. Even though we do use inference it may not be as much as ancient Jews did.

    • Thanks, Brian. I agree. As a rule, I am reluctant to be dogmatic about specific points that the text doesn’t explicate 🙂

  5. Might it be possible for you to explain how Yeshua was raised “on the third day” when Christianity says He died on Friday and was raised on Sunday? According to western reckoning, that is only two days. Does the beginning of the new day at sunset factor into this? Thanks.

    • There’s debate as to which day Jesus died. Traditionally, it is understood to be a Friday. If this is the case, then Jesus is dead part of the day and night of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday — i.e., on the third of three days. So, yes: in this chronology the beginning of the new day factors in.

  6. I have been led to believe that Jesus fulfilled the typology of the 7 Jewish feast days. He died on Nisan 14 as the Passover lamb and was resurrected on Nisan 16, the feast of first fruits. That is the third day.

  7. Mark 14:12-17 (Lk 22:17) says the day “the Passover was killed” they “made ready the Passover”. That day was Nissan 14 per Ex 12:6. When evening came (making it the 15th) He ate the Passover and died later. Thus the Sabbath that was coming had to be the weekly Sabbath.

  8. Thanks for the teachings. Does the third day on the above mentioned Scriptures relate to the third day of the creation account on Genesis 113-18?

    • The third day of creation was for vegetation. The Jewish feast of first fruits was to be the day after the Sabbath following Passover. Since the Sabbath was not instituted until the 7th day of creation, I see no relationship of the 3rd day of creation to first fruits.

    • Thanks for your question, Jim. It might, but I’m not sure how I would draw the connecting line, since the “third day” is usually one of “climax” or “culmination.” Day Three is the culmination of God’s horticultural creation, so maybe that works! 🙂

  9. I think we only need to believe that Jesus was dead but arose again. We don’t need to get to bogged down with the exact days. This teaching is awesome.

  10. Thanks for the article. The week as we know it did not exist at the time of Christ. I suggest investigating the luni-solar (Creator’s) calendar to improve understanding of the passion sequence. Perhaps the “heart of the earth” may not be burial but the Comforter in believers to Age end?

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