Recently, I came across an exchange between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist asserted that the Bible cannot be trusted, and as his evidence, pointed to the four “conflicting” gospel versions of the women's actions surround the preparation of spices and events on resurrection morning. The Christian went through all kinds of reasoning to explain away the different stories, but they both missed the point. Yes, the four accounts of the resurrection differ, and yes, there is a reasonable explanation. But that explanation is far different that those that the Christian was putting forth.
Let me start by stressing how very important this topic actually is. Do you realize that Yeshua (Jesus) himself said that there would be only one sign given of whether or not he was the Messiah? We must look for that one sign, nothing else. We can’t just take his word for it, because every mental institute has someone who says they are the Messiah. We can’t just base it on his miracles, because any good magician can recreate something that appears miraculous. We can’t even take a dead person being raised to life, because that would make Lazarus a candidate for the Messiah.
What was the one and only sign that Yeshua himself prophesied? And how does that one sign also help explain the apparent discrepancies in the resurrection account? Matthew 12:40 reads “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Not 36 hours, as the traditional understanding of a Friday to Sunday crucifixion/resurrection story would have you believe, but three full 24 hour periods. In fact, if he was only in the tomb 36 hours, then according to this prophecy, he is not our Messiah.
Often the confusion starts with John 19:31 where it talks about removing the bodies from the cross because it was the preparation before the Sabbath. People assume this refers to Friday and Saturday, but John 19:14 makes it clear that this refers to the preparation of the Passover, not the weekly Sabbath. The only day that Scripture ever refers to as the preparation day is the day of Passover, which is the day before the first day of Unleavened Bread. The preparation being spoken of was that every household was to thoroughly search and remove every speck of leavening.
Daniel 9:26-27 said that the Messiah would be cut off, and cause the sacrificial system to end, in the “midst of the week”. In a seven day week, the midst is the fourth day (Wednesday), not the sixth day (Friday). With the Passover and crucifixion being the midst of the week Wednesday, the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread would have fallen on Thursday. It was after this Sabbath that Mark 16:1 tells us that the women purchased the spices to prepare his body. That gave them Friday to do whatever work was necessary, which likely involved some soaking, steeping, straining, and other time consuming steps. Then, after preparing them, Luke23:56 tells us that they rested the Sabbath (here referring to the 7th day Sabbath). Two Sabbaths is the only possible explanation for these two passages of Scripture, otherwise there is a clear contradiction, as it is not possible to buy spices after the Sabbath (Mark), but yet have prepared them before resting on the Sabbath (Luke). The understanding of the two Sabbaths is also the only possible explanation that would fulfill the three day and three night sign of the Messiah, which he said would be the only sign that was given as to who was the true Messiah.
The apparent disparity bewteen the different gospels of events upon his resurrection is best understood by realizing that each gospel writer is telling different parts of the story. Scripture leaves no doubt that the day the tomb was found empty was the first day of the week (Sunday). It is also important to remember that by Biblical reckoning, the dark part precedes the light part of the day (as in the creation week statements, “the evening and the morning were the first day”, etc). By counting backwards using Yeshua’s own prophecy of three days and three nights, and the fact that he was definitely not in the tomb on the first day of the week, you would find that the day of the crucifixion was a Wednesday (Passover, and the preparation day for tomorrow’s annual Sabbath), and his body was removed from the cross just before sundown. He was in the tomb the dark and light part of Thursday (the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread), the dark and light part of Friday, and the dark and light part of Saturday, resurrecting just as it began to start the first day of the week. This was the dark part that we Gentiles using our Roman calendar would call Saturday night, but Biblically is the start of the first day of the week.
It is the gap of 12 hours between the time Yeshua arose at sunset Saturday and the time it became sunlight Sunday morning, which accounts for the gospel differences. The gospel writers are all telling the same story, it is just that they focus on different parts of this 12 hour period.
To see this, it is helpful to look in the Greek for clarification. For example, the word “dawn” in Matthew is not the same word as “rising of the sun” used when Mark speaks of Sunday morning. The word used in Matthew refers to the onset of the day, which Biblically is at sundown. As such, it was after sundown on Saturday when Matthew tells his portion of the story, and sun-up Sunday when Mark tells his. When you combine all four stories together, along with the understanding of the three days and nights and the 12 hours of the empty tomb during which the resurrection accounts are given, you’ll have a more complete picture, although there is still room for conjecture as to exactly how things occurred.
Here is a likely scenario. As soon as the sun set on the weekly Sabbath, which was the conclusion of the three days and three nights time period, the women hurried to the tomb. Perhaps Mary outran the ladies, which could be why one account focuses on her by herself. Then, with the onset of darkness, being shaken by an earthquake, seeing angels, and discovering that Yeshua was not in the tomb, they were fearful and confused. They went back to the disciples, and again ran to the tomb. Perhaps they decided they could do nothing until morning to find him, and remained at their gathering place to discuss the events and try to get some rest. Either Mary stayed behind when the other women went for the disciples, or she was first on the scene in the morning, when she had her private encounter with Yeshua. But in all of the accounts, Yeshua was already risen before they ever arrived on the scene. The rolling of the stone on Saturday night was not done for His benefit, but rather to allow his followers to see that he had risen. (To see a color-coded article putting all four gospel accounts into a single story, click here.)
Yeshua is our Messiah. He did fulfill the only sign given – the three day and three night prophecy. It is only misunderstandings and tradition of man that have caused us to believe otherwise. If you hold to the Friday through Sunday scenario, then based on the one sign we were given to identify the Messiah, the only remaining conclusion would have to be that Yahsuah wasn’t really the Messiah after all.
For Part Two of this article, please see here: http://nailedtocross.com/index.php/articles/common-errors/21-the-false-trinity
For an in-depth video presentation by Don Harris of Think Red Ink, please visit http://www.thinkredink.com/new-media/video/RR/index.htm
For more information, you can also read a detailed article at: http://www.ucg.org/booklets/HH/easterbiblicaltruth.asp
UPDATE: I received a question 10/18/2015 from a reader of this article, if the three days and three nights could be counted as Friday through Sunday if you include his arrest and trial as part of the time Yeshua refers to as being "in the heart of the earth". (Matthew 12:40) I am posting my response to help anyone else who might have this same question.
Ok, let’s take the idea that “heart of the earth” means “under the control of his crucifiers” (even though that is an unusual interpretation of the clear words), and try to make it fit with the one sign (three days and three nights) that we are given of the true Messiah, while also making it fit with Mark and Luke in the timing of the spices and the Sabbaths.
Mark 16:1 says there was a Sabbath before which the women bought spices. Luke 23:56 says there was a Sabbath after which the women rested once they had prepared the spices. The only way both Mark and Luke can be correct is if there was an annual Sabbath (Mark) with a working day between it and the weekly Sabbath (Luke). Or, you have to throw out one of your gospels as being wrong, and you have to pick between Mark and Luke as to which one to discard. I refuse to go there. They are both right or throw away the entire Bible as untrustworthy. When you refuse to call one of the gospels wrong, you have to admit that there are two different Sabbaths being referred to.
Now, try to make Thursday as the day of the trial to be part of “in the heart of the earth” and work with these texts. Thursday the trial, Friday the crucifixion (Passover), Saturday (a dual Sabbath of weekly and Unleavened Bread, with no required day between them for the buying and preparing of the spices, in fact no time at all to buy or prepare spices). Although there is not one scintilla of evidence that it was Sunday when he rose (we only know that early Sunday, while it was yet dark, he was discovered to have already risen - John 20:1), are you counting as Thursday night, Friday day, Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night, and Sunday day? If so, you are 1) taking time that is before the burial (Thursday), you are 2) omitting the spice preparation day to which two of your gospels testify, and you are 3) counting a day that there is no Scriptural evidence to support (Sunday). There are three errors with this scenario.
Or, you can take off your inherited Friday glasses and read the text as it is written:
He would be in the heart of the earth (ie, buried) for 3 days and 3 nights. Scripture clearly has a Passover crucifixion where he was buried at nightfall, the next day would be Unleavened Bread (Mark’s Sabbath), then the spice day, and then the weekly Sabbath (Luke’s Sabbath), and you end up with him rising as the Sabbath sun set. Since we know for certain that Luke’s Sabbath is Saturday, work backward to Friday as the spice day, Thursday as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Wednesday as the day of Passover. With him rising at sundown Saturday, you have no need to invent or count any Sunday hours.
Now, which of these two scenarios fit with the whole of Scripture? The Friday one has three problems. Mark and Luke’s scenario, along with what Yeshua said is the only sign to be given of the true messiah, is perfectly aligned with a Wednesday crucifixion.
In reality, the whole Friday/Sunday lie was promulgated to honor two false gods: Dagon (whose day was Friday) and Tammuz (whose day was Sunday). But there is no way to fit it with Scripture.