Crucified: Wednesday or Friday?


By Dr. Robert L. Sumner,
Editor of The Biblical Evangelist

Dr. Robert L. Sumner

Here is our Lord’s version, with His application, of the Old Testament story: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 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” (Matthew 12:39, 40).

Now, boys and girls, let me give you the “true” understanding of this passage, as modern scholars interpret it. Late on Friday afternoon, because of the terrible storm about to sink the boat traveling from Joppa to Tarshish, the sailors picked up a passenger named Jonah and, because he admitted the storm was his fault due to disobedience to Almighty God, threw him overboard. Instead of drowning, God had a great fish prepared that immediately swallowed him. He was in the belly of that fish from late Friday until slightly after sunset Saturday night (which was the start of the first day of the week according to Jewish reckoning of time). So he was in the belly of that fish, a little over twenty-four hours. That was the “three days and three nights.”

Would you buy that interpretation?

But, wait! Let the ‘scholars’ explain it to you. According to them, any part of a day was considered a day by the ancients. Therefore, the last bit of Friday afternoon was one day, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday was another day (making two days), and the early part of after sunset on Saturday was the third day. Ipso facto, we have three days and three nights.

Again I ask, would you buy that interpretation?

I wouldn’t! And that is exactly why I repudiate the Roman Catholic understanding of a Friday crucifixion. When I first got saved I almost went bananas trying to get Jesus into the heart of the earth by sunset on Friday and out again before sunrise on Sunday morning, especially since He didn’t even die until sometime after three p.m. on Friday. How was that, I mused, three days and three nights?

Then the “scholars” explained it to me: According to them, any part of a day was considered a day by the ancients. Therefore, the last bit of Friday afternoon was one day, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday was another day (making two days), and the early part of after sunset on Saturday was the third day. Ipso facto, we have three days and three nights (see Jonah above who had the same experience).

I don’t buy it for Jonah and I don’t buy it for our Lord (both would have had to have had the same timeframe according to the word of Christ). We have often marveled that men could accept that Jonah was 72 hours in the belly of the great fish, but not that Jesus was 72 hours in the heart of the earth.

Let me give you a timeframe that will fit both Jonah and Jesus: in the grave at sunset on Wednesday, meaning from then until sunset Thursday night (day one), from sunset Thursday night until sunset Friday night (day two), and from sunset Friday night until sunset Saturday night (day three). After three days and three nights the great fish vomited Jonah out on to dry ground and, more importantly, after three days and three nights – at sunset on Saturday or very shortly after, which was the first day of the week – up from the grave Christ arose!

How did the Roman Catholics – and their Protestant successors – make their theory fit the Holy Week activities? By inventing “silent” (missing) days for the week where no activities for our Lord are mentioned in Scripture. But how much better – and in accord with Scripture itself – to assume those silent days never happened? Isn’t it more logical to assume the flow of Scripture for Holy Week is exactly as found in the Gospels? We think so.

Please remember that the Word of God does not say Christ would be “dead” 72 hours, but buried for that time. Also note that the Sabbath mentioned was a “special” Sabbath, not the weekly one (John 19:31). Some have argued that since the next day was a Sabbath it had to be a Friday crucifixion. Not so!

To make Friday crucifixion work, its backers must get Jesus in the tomb before sunset on the day He died in order to count the last hour or so of Friday as Day One in the grave. It was the ninth hour when Jesus made His famous cry to the Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The ninth hour was the equivalent of our three p.m. Since that was the fourth (middle) of the seven cries from the cross – with three remaining – we recognize the shortness of time for the Friday theory.

What remained to take place beside the three cries from the cross? His actual death; getting Him down from the cross after the Roman soldiers had pierced His side to prove death; Joseph of Arimathaea going to Pilate (getting an audience would take time and then Pilate had to get assurance from the soldiers at the crucifixion site that Jesus was dead) and making arrangements for taking the body to his own tomb; the body had to be washed in water; Joseph had to go and purchase a 100-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes; then His body must be wound with the spices in linen clothes; His head must be wrapped separately with a napkin; He must be tenderly carried from the crucifixion site to the tomb in the Garden; and His body must be positioned on the slab. Unfortunately, there were no cell phones whereby Joseph could contact Pilate and Pilate could contact the soldiers at the crucifixion scene. It all had to be done in person or by couriers.

Dr. Rueben Archer Torrey (1856-1928) was one of the top scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A graduate of both Yale University (where he was converted) and the Yale Divinity School in its evangelical days, he also studied abroad. He described the Friday crucifixion theory as “a makeshift, and a very weak makeshift” at that. Torrey dealt with the issue in his Moody Colportage Library book, Difficulties and Alleged Errors and Contradictions in the Bible, chapter 21, “Was Jesus Really Three Days and Three Nights in the Heart of the Earth?”

I am not going to repeat his chapter, but here is part of his conclusion: “To sum it all up, JESUS DIED ABOUT SUNSET ON WEDNESDAY. Seventy-two hours later, exactly three days and three nights, at the beginning of the first day of the week (Saturday at sunset), He arose again from the grave. When the women visited the tomb just before dawn next morning, they found the grave already empty. So we are not driven to any such makeshift as that any small portion of a day is reckoned as a whole day and night, but we find that the statement of Jesus was literally true.”

Other evangelical giants who taught a Wednesday crucifixion:

A former late friend of the editor, Dr. Bolton Davidheiser (Ph.D. in Zoology; author of Science and the Bible, editor for many years, News & Notes of Interest to Christians). In a seasonal issue of the latter he referenced “an old magazine” (which he did not name) that listed the days of the week on which the Passover was observed, starting with AD 20 and going through AD 35, with corresponding BC dates. The one he highlighted for the Passover at the time of the crucifixion was on Thursday. Since the Passover was “the next day,” it means the crucifixion itself was on Wednesday when our Lord was 33. The nearest Friday crucifixion on the chart would have been when the Lord was 39 (we know of no one claiming He was that old at the time Pilate had Him put to death).

Dr. Dale Crowley, Jr., was a dynamic preacher – he, as a student, had led in the fight against evolution at Baylor University (costing him his degree via expulsion days before graduation) – and he preached daily to many of our national leaders in Washington on his “The King’s Business Radio Program” (he held P. O. Box One in Washington, D.C.) and his most popular broadcast was probably “Right Start for the Day” which he launched six months before Pearl Harbor on June 9, 1941. One of the entries in his “Your Enemy Because I Tell You the Truth?” series was “The Wednesday Crucifixion and Burial of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” He gave his reasons for so believing it was Wednesday.

The late Dr. John R. Rice, founder and editor of The Sword of the Lord until his death and the author of over 260 books and booklets with a circulation of over 61 million during his lifetime, in his commentary of Matthew, King of the Jews, pages 286-288, deals very thoroughly with this Roman Catholic tradition of a Friday crucifixion and shows the necessity of a Wednesday crucifixion.

In his Dr. Rice, Here is my Question…he dealt with this one: “When Was Jesus Crucified?” His whole answer, a good one, involves over two full pages, so here is his opening paragraph as a synopsis: “I believe that Jesus was not crucified on Friday, but on Wednesday. Preachers have usually accepted the Roman Catholic teaching that He was crucified on Friday and have never investigated what the Bible teaches on that subject. All Bible evidence proves that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, buried that night, and arose from the dead some time Saturday night, before sunrise Sunday morning. Remember that the Jewish day began at sundown and the night was counted a part of the following day.”

Dr. Henry Grube of Mobile (AL), while of a different denominational view than the editor, was obviously a good man since at one of the Bob Jones University Bible conferences at which I spoke, he was also a speaker. The Joneses didn’t invite bad guys to their annual conferences. Just giving his summary: “The conclusion that must be reached is this: The Lord Jesus was crucified about 9:00 o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, the 14th of Nisan (April 5th). He died about 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon and was buried at sunset. He was in the grave Wednesday night and all day Thursday; Thursday night and all day Friday; Friday night and all day Saturday. Then at sunset on Saturday (the end of the Jewish Sabbath and the beginning of the first day of the week), He came out of the grave.”

Believe it or not, the strongly Calvinistic, amillennialist Loraine Boettner also argued, on the basis of Jonah, for a Wednesday crucifixion. His summary: “Thus the testimony is so clear and emphatic and repeated that it is hard to see how it can mean anything other than that Christ was in the grave three 24-hour days and nights, which means that He arose at the end of the Jewish Sabbath, that is, after sunset Saturday evening … Christ Himself said that He would be in the grave THREE DAYS and THREE NIGHTS. And you cannot get three days and three nights between sundown Friday evening and dawn Sunday morning” (Boettner’s emphasis).

Doesn’t it seem strange to you – as it does to me – that evangelicals who insist so strongly on a literal interpretation of Scripture (where the sense of Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense) would refuse to take literally the statement “three days and three nights”?

Having said all of the above, let me make it clear that I do not consider a Wednesday crucifixion a test of fellowship. I believe it. I can’t see anything else. A lot of good men think the Roman Catholic conclusion of Friday is correct (some others hold to a Thursday crucifixion). The important thing is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again (I Corinthians 15:1-4). We are positive of that.

Article from The Biblical Evangelist / March-April, 2011, Issue on Page 10.  Used by permission.

3 thoughts on “Crucified: Wednesday or Friday?”

  1. Dear Mr. Sumner,
    What do you think was the year when Jesus was crucified? I think a jewish perpetual calendar could make it light what was the exact day of His death.
    Here is one:
    If this theory is right, the date could be 27. AD or 30. AD According to this calendar Nisan 15th fell on Saturday in 26. AD (supposed that the first day on the week in the calendar is Sunday.)

  2. Pastor Joe,
    I believe that is the funniest answer to this question I have ever heard. It makes sense. I suppose those who offer the Friday crucifixion day have to rely on sources other than the Bible to make their case. I realize good men differ on this question and answer.

  3. i believe that Christ was crucified on Wednesday. 3 days and 3 nights. I learned how to count to 3 in the 1st grade.

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