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Easter Apologetic - Part 2

Updated on September 7, 2013

The Night in Which He Was Betrayed

Professor Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University has announced that the Last Supper actually took place on a Wednesday. For some few of us this is not news. Professor Humphreys is from all accounts a Christian, and his research was intended to resolve unanswered questions surrounding the Gospels. Professor Humphreys believes that Matthew, Mark, and Luke used a different calendar than John, which accounts for differences between these Gospels.

The editors of the Companion Bible reached the same conclusion in the early part of the 20th Century, although their arguments are based primarily on simple chronology. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus is recorded as saying “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In order for this statement to be true the crucifixion had to take place on Thursday.

For thirty years I've heard Christians explain this away by saying that the Jews counted partial days and nights. This indicates to me that people either aren't paying attention or are bad at fractions. If Jesus was buried on Friday before sunset (the Jewish day begins and ends with sunset), that would be one day (Friday), then there is Saturday - the second day. At midnight, Saturday night, the stone is rolled back to reveal the empty tomb, that leaves no third day. The same is true of the nights, there would only be Friday and Saturday night. With a Thursday crucifixion we have Thursday - one day, Friday - two days, Saturday - three days, that also gives us Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night.

It is interesting to note that Matthew's Gospel states in 28:1, After the Sabbaths, plural. This is noted in the Newberry version, Alford in his Greek New Testament makes note of it without commenting, and in the commentary series, What the Bible Teaches: Matthew, a note is also made of the use of the plural Sabbaths. The reason for this plural is that the order of days in the Feast of Unleavened Bread is 14th - Passover, 15th - First Day of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath. That means the Friday following the crucifixion would have been a Sabbath, the First Day of Unleavened Bread. When the Marys arrived at the tomb on the first day of the new week, it was after the two Sabbath days.

That this chronology was lost very early in Christianity is obvious, no where in the early Church Fathers is the crucifixion mentioned as occurring on a Thursday. For me the reason is quite obvious, Paul taught very clearly that as Christians we do not recognize holy days, cf. Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 4:8-10, Colossians 2:16-17. For the early Christians it was the event and not the day that was important, even more, it was the resurrection that was highlighted in the Sunday gatherings. For the early Christians it was not so much that the Last Supper was held on a Wednesday, nor that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, what was important was that Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week.

Paul writing to the Romans said “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” 4:25. That was the important message the early Christians remembered. It is interesting to find a scientific justification for believing in three days and three nights in the grave, for Biblical literalists this has never been a problem.

Whether or not the Last Supper occurred on a Wednesday or Thursday, the night in which the Lord was betrayed he gave instructions (1 Corinthian 11:23-26) for a remembrance, it is that remembrance which is important. That remembrance typically takes place on a Sunday, because we Christians remember a person and an event, and we celebrate a New Covenant.


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