Plain Bible Truth about the Wednesday Crucifixion

By Dirk Anderson, ©2024

The death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history. A small minority of Christians insist that Jesus died on Wednesday and arose late on Saturday before sundown. They teach that for the “Sign of Jonah” prophecy of Matthew 12:40 to be fulfilled, Christ must have died on Wednesday afternoon, remained in the grave for three full days and three full nights, and then arose late on Saturday afternoon. Advocates of this timeline claim this is a simple mathematics problem that a child should be smart enough to figure out. They insist this is the only interpretation that provides the proper amount of time needed to fulfill this prophecy. If Jesus died on Friday afternoon, and arose on Sunday morning, then Jesus failed his own prophecy about being in the tomb exactly 72 hours. Herbert W. Armstrong explains:

In order to be three days and three nights — 72 hours — in the tomb, our Lord had to be resurrected at exactly THE SAME TIME OF DAY that His body was buried in the tomb! ... And since the RESURRECTION had to occur at the SAME TIME OF DAY, three days later, THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST OCCURRED, not at sunrise, but IN THE LATE AFTERNOON, near sunset! Startling as this fact may be, it is the PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH! If Jesus rose at any other time of day, He could not have been three days and three nights in His grave. If He rose at any other time of day, He failed to prove, by the only sign He gave that He was the true Messiah, the Son of the living Creator! Either He rose near the END of a day near sunset, or else He is not the Christ!1

Armstrong assures his readers that a Saturday Resurrection is the "PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH." If that was true, then there should be Biblical evidence to prove it. So, what does the PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH really say?

PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH: Jesus was Resurrected on Sunday, not Saturday

Armstrong argues for a Saturday afternoon resurrection because Jesus was already resurrected when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb while “it was yet dark” (John 20:1). Since the KJV of Matthew 28:1 starts off with the words, “in the end of the Sabbath,” it is argued that the women came on Saturday evening after dark, after the Sabbath day had ended at sundown. According to this theory, if they arrived around sundown Saturday evening, then Jesus must have been resurrected earlier on Saturday, exactly 72-hours after his death.

Let us take a closer look at John 20:1. It says Mary arrived when it was "yet dark" (KJV) or "still dark" (NKJV) (Greek eti skotia). This wording implies Mary arrived prior to dawn while it was yet dark because the sun had not yet risen. No one says "it is yet dark" right after sundown. That would be nonsensical. If it was just after sundown, the word "yet" would make no sense. The word implies it had been dark for a time, and was still not light as of yet. If I say I awoke while it was yet dark, a child could easily understand that I awoke before dawn when it was still dark out before it got light. According to Thayer, the Greek word for "yet" (eti) means "a thing which went on formerly, whereas now a different state of things exists or has begun to exist."2 Using this definition, John was telling his readers it was dark formerly, but now a different stage (dawning of the day) is beginning.

All the other gospel authors substantiate this. For example, Luke writes that the women arrived “upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1). Mark writes the women came “very early in the morning the first day of the week” (Mark 16:2). Even Matthew writes they came “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1). Mark explicitly writes that Jesus “was risen early the first day of the week” (Mark 16:9). Robert Odom correctly adduces, “not one Bible text says that Jesus rose on the Sabbath day!”3 That's the PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH! There is not a single text in the Bible placing Jesus' resurrection on Saturday afternoon, but there is one (Mark 16:9) that explicitly states Jesus arose Sunday morning. Let's take a look at it in Greek:

anistemi de proi protos sabbaton

Here is the direct translation:

Now, we can put it together in English. In English, the conjunction de (but or now) joins this sentence to the previous sentence in Mark 16:8, and must be moved to the front of the sentence, as can be seen in all English translations and countless other verses in the Bible. Therefore, after moving de to the front of the sentence, here is the literal rendering:

Now, raised from the dead approximately 3 am to 6 am in the morning on the first [day after] sabbath (Thayer: "the first day after the sabbath")

Now, we can check other translations to verify:

Thus, Mark 16:9 explicitly states Jesus arose on Sunday morning, during the fourth watch of the night, which is approximately between 3 am and 6 am. That is the PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH!

What about Matthew 28:1? Doesn't it talk about late Saturday afternoon? It states the women came “in the end (Greek opse) of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.” The verse states the women came to the sepulcher at “as it began to dawn.” “Began to dawn” is an accurate translation of the Greek word epiphosko, which Thayer’s lexicon defines as “to grow light, to dawn.” However, infrequently the word can also be used for evening time at the end of the day (Luke 23:54). Therefore, the question arises, what does “in the end of the Sabbath” mean? Does it mean as the Sabbath day was ending? Or does it mean after the Sabbath day had ended?

The answer lies in the Greek word opse. Matthew writes: opse sabbaton epiphosko "In the end of the Sabbath as it began to dawn." Why does the KJV Bible translate opse as "in the end of"? Samuele Bacchiocchi explains that older translations, such as the KJV and RSV, used the classical Greek rendering of opse which is “late” or “late on.”4 Hence, the RSV says, “now late on the Sabbath day.” In classical Greek, a language which was used up the 4th century BC, the word could mean "in the end" or "late on" which is how the KJV, ASV, and RSV translators mistakenly translated it. However, the authors of the New Testament did not write in classical Greek. Classical Greek was a language that ceased to be used hundreds of years before the New Testament was even written! The New Testament authors wrote in koine Greek which was the lingua franca during the first century. The koine Greek indicates the women came long after the Sabbath. Thayer informs us opse means "after a long time, long after, late" (G3796). This indicates the women did not come immediately after the Sabbath but a substantial time after the end of the sabbath. This word is consistent with the women coming at dawn, which is "long after" the end of the Sabbath. It is not consistent with the women arriving around sunset on Sabbath. In fact, Matthew uses a different koine Greek word (opsios, translated as "late" or "evening" G3790) just a few sentences earlier when he talks about Joseph of Arimathea going to Pilot "late on" Friday to ask for the body of Jesus (Matt. 27:57). Therefore, if Matthew intended to imply the women came late on Sabbath or Sabbath evening, he would have used opsios not opse. His choice to use opse demonstrates that Matthew was referring to a time long after the Sabbath ended. The PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH is that Matthew 28:1 cannot be used to justify a Saturday afternoon resurrection.

We must understand that the meaning of words in languages changes over time. A good example is the word "gay." In the 1960s, "gay" meant joyful or happy. Today it refers to a male homosexual. Likewise, many words in the KJV are unrecognizable to English readers today, and some have very different meanings in modern English versus old English. Opse is one of the words that changed in meaning between the classical Greek (400 years earlier) and koine Greek. This mistranslation was discovered by Greek scholars in the early 20th century who corrected it. Thus, nearly all modern translations correctly translate this verse as “after the Sabbath”:

Any child reading the words "after the Sabbath as it began to dawn" would understand this is describing events taking place early on Sunday morning. Any ambiguity as to whether the women came to the tomb on Saturday evening or Sunday morning can be resolved by looking at the parallel accounts in the synoptic gospels. As noted above, both Mark and Luke state the women came “very early in the morning.” Therefore, to be consistent with the other synoptics, the phrase “as it began to dawn” should be understood as very early on Sunday morning, just before dawn.

Mark’s account proves that the women visited upon Sunday morning “at the rising of the sun” (Mark 16:2). The very same women are named in both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts. In Mark’s account, as the women neared the tomb, they asked: “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?” (Mark 16:3). If they had already been there Saturday around sundown and found the tomb empty, then they would have already known that the stone was rolled away from the door! This is proof they had not been to an empty tomb Saturday evening.

A further objection to a Saturday resurrection is raised by Bacchiocchi:

More decisive still is the instruction given to the soldiers by the chief priests: “Tell people, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep” (v. 13). In view of the fact that the soldiers had been stationed at the sepulcher during the light hours of the Sabbath day (Matt 27:62-66), they could hardly have told the people on Saturday evening that the disciples stole Christ’s body by night, when no night had yet intervened between the beginning of their vigil and the Resurrection.5

The PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH is that any Greek person reading Matthew and Mark in the first century would understand that Jesus arose a long while after Sabbath ended, sometime between 3 am and 6 am. This thoroughly refutes the Wednesday timeline. Since Jesus arose on Sunday morning, a 72-hour timeline would require Him to have been crucified on Thursday morning, which contradicts all Scriptures. Finally, since Christ arose on Sunday, a Wednesday crucifixion would mean that Christ was raised on the fifth day which also contradicts all Scriptures. This fact alone proves beyond any doubt that Jesus did not die on Wednesday and was not raised on Saturday. That is the PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH!

Sign of Jonah - Simple Mathematics?

According to the “sign of Jonah” prophecy of Matthew 12:40, Jesus prophesied that he was going to remain in the tomb for three days and three nights. According to Armstrong, if he did not stay that entire time, then one could charge Him with being a false prophet. The traditional position (Friday crucifixion, Sunday resurrection) is ridiculed for failing to fulfill the “sign of Jonah” because if Jesus was entombed late Friday afternoon, and then resurrected on Sunday morning, then he was only in the tomb around 36 hours. That would be two nights and less than one-and-a-half days. Thus, it is argued the traditional timeline cannot mathematically fulfill the “sign of Jonah” prophecy. The Gospel of Mark lends some support to this position, because Mark states three times that Jesus said he would rise to life “after three days” (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). If Wednesday was the first day, Thursday the second, and Friday the third, then Saturday would be the fourth day from the crucifixion. This would seem to corroborate Mark’s statements that Jesus would rise “after three days.”

Inclusive Reckoning of Jewish Time

How can Jesus' prophecy of the “Sign of Jonah” being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” be reconciled with a Friday-Sunday timeline (Matthew 12:40)? In order to reconcile this substantial difference, it is important to understand how the Hebrews reckoned time. In Jewish reckoning a part of a day could be counted as a whole day, or even as a whole day and night. This is called inclusive reckoning.

One example of inclusive reckoning is found in Esther. Esther told the Jews to not eat for “three days, night or day” (Esther 4:16). She said that she would do the same, and afterwards she would “go in unto the king” (Esther 4:16). The modern reader would logically conclude that if the Jews were planning to fast day and night for three days, then one would expect Esther to wait to go into the king until after this 72-hour period of fasting had completed, which would be upon the fourth day. However, the Bible states she went into the king “on the third day” (Esther 5:1). While this may seem odd to the modern reader, it correlates with how the Jews reckoned days. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains inclusive reckoning:

In Jewish communal life part of a day is at times reckoned as one day; e.g., the day of the funeral, even when the latter takes place late in the afternoon, is counted as the first of the seven days of mourning; a short time in the morning of the seventh day is counted as the seventh day; circumcision takes place on the eighth day, even though of the first day only a few minutes remained after the birth of the child, these being counted as one day. Again, a man who hears of a vow made by his wife or his daughter, and desires to cancel the vow, must do so on the same day on which he hears of it, as otherwise the protest has no effect; even if the hearing takes place a little time before night, the annulment must be done within that little time.

In Jewish reckoning, “day” does not always equate to a 24-hour period of time. Based on this, when reckoning events such as days of mourning for a funeral, even a few minutes of a 24-hour period would count as one day. Thus, we have established that any part of a day constitutes a “day” in Jewish reckoning. But what about the phrase “day and night”? Doesn't that mean a full 24-hour period? The truth is that the phrase “day and night” is interchangeable with the word “day.” For example, Matthew says Jesus fasted “forty days and forty nights” whereas Mark and Luke write that Jesus fasted “forty days” (Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2). Was it 40 days? Or 40 days and nights? The truth is that it does not matter. Any part of a “day” or “day and night” would have been interpreted by the Jews whom Matthew was writing to as any part of a 24-hour period, including only a small part of the day (or night).

Colin Humphreys appeals to the Jewish Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah for support of this. Humphreys confirms, “a portion of a twenty-four-hour period of a day and a night counts as a whole day and a night.”6 Therefore, if Jesus died on Friday afternoon...