Luke and Inclusive Counting

A measure of disagreement has arisen over the chronology of the Passover week in which the Messiah died for our sins and the sins of the world. Luke has given a rather straightforward account of the day of the Messiah's resurrection. He lets us know, while dealing with a different subject, his method of counting days. He reports Yeshua as saying, "I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach my goal" (Luke 13:32). The reckoning is INCLUSIVE: "today, tomorrow and the third day." Luke had already recorded Yeshua's statement about his own resurrection: "The Son of Man must suffer ...and be killed and be raised up on the third day" (Luke 9:22). "On the third day he will rise again" (Luke 18:33). He must be crucified and "on the third day rise again" (Luke 24:7). In harmony with these plain statements Luke notes that the Messiah was put to rest in the tomb on the Preparation Day and that his friends rested on the Sabbath Day according to the commandment --- a reference to the Sabbath. Then on the First Day of the Week they came to the tomb (Luke 23:54-24:1).

Consistent with this account Luke completes the story by telling us that the disciples who met Yeshua on the First Day of the Week "hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Their hopes were fading because "today [the First Day of the Week] is the third day since these things happened." The things in question were the crucifixion of the Messiah: the Messiah had said to them. "What things?" (Luke 24:19). They replied " our rulers delivered him up to death and crucified him" (Luke 24:20). Then they say: "Today is the third day since these things [the crucifixion] happened" (Luke 24:21). The First Day of the Week is, of course, the third day since the Preparation Day. Luke's calculation follows his earlier statement in Luke 13:32 (above): "Today, tomorrow and the third day." In reverse: Today [the First Day of the Week], yesterday and the third day since the First Day of the Week = the Preparation Day.

None of this would have been problematic, if Bible readers had taken note of the very Jewish idiom involved in the expression "three days and three nights" found in Matthew 12:40. To us English speakers of the 21st century that expression would mean a period longer than from the Preparation Day evening to the morning of the First Day of the Week. But what then of the rabbinical statement (around 100 AD)? "A day and a night constitute a season of time, 24 hours. And a PART of such a season of 24 hours is to be counted as a WHOLE season" (Rabbi Eliezer ben Azaryah -- see Strack Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash, Vol. 1, p. 649). Strack Billerbeck adds that a PART of a month or a year is reckoned also as a WHOLE month or year. Similarly a 12-hour season of time can mean a PART of that period. If then we read Matthew 12:40 in its Jewish context it does NOT mean three full days and nights. Thus we avoid contradicting Luke.

-- Focus on the Kingdom, April 2007.

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