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 specify that “the Messiah will be raised from the dead on the third day,” the apostle has good reason to draw such a conclusion because the Bible presents the “third day” as a climactic moment associated with divine activity. More, around the time of Paul, Jewish Bible interpreters understood various parts of Scripture as direct references to third-day 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). It is on this third day that Abraham nearly sacrifices his son until a ram appears as a substitute. Thus, God saves Isaac from certain death so that he can live on with his father. For this reason, Hebrews says that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively [literally, “in parable” (ἐν παραβολῇ; en parabole)], he did receive him back” (Heb 11:19). Accordingly, the near sacrifice of Isaac was a parabolic “resurrection” on the third day.

Scripture features another “resurrection” when Jonah emerges from a fish’s belly after “three days and three nights” (שׁלשׁה ימים ושׁלשׁה לילות; sheloshah yamim u’sheloshah leylot; 1:17). 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). If we read this verse too narrowly, we may notice that Jonah’s complete amount of time in the fish (“three days and three nights”) differs from Jesus’ experience in the earth: Yeshua spends parts of three days and two full nights in the tomb before his resurrection “on the third day.” Yet, despite Scripture’s reference to Jonah being in the fish for three whole nightsthe rabbis after Jesus still speak of “the third day of Jonah” alongside a reference to “the third day of the resurrection of the dead” (Genesis Rabbah 56:1). Thus, the rabbis employ some poetic license when they interpret Jonah, and Rabbi Jesus does the same.

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” 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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89 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).

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  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).

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    • 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.
  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.

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  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.
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