Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

How long was Jesus in the tomb?

Matthew12:40 — 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.

Those are the words of Jesus, stating clearly that He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. His crucifixion and burial took place on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and He rose early in the morning of Sunday, the first day of the week. How does that add up to three days and three nights?

Many people have wrestled with that question and concluded that the crucifixion and burial actually took place on a Thursday; I have even read some who claim it must have been Wednesday. These folks have done their calculations carefully and appear to have unassailable logic on their side. Obviously, the idea that Jesus died on Friday is just a figment of somebody’s imagination in the far distant past. Except . . .

Not everybody thinks like we do — not even in calculating the passage of time. When I began to learn French, I discovered that if I wanted to meet somebody a week from today I would have to say “in eight days.” If I said “in seven days” he would be there a day before I would. What is going on here? Well, I am writing this on a Wednesday and to the French mind it makes no sense to skip today when counting the days to next Wednesday. Today is not over yet, so I must count today and all the days up to and including next Wednesday. That makes eight days.

In the beginning that was incomprehensible, completely ridiculous, to my mind. Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, guess what? My way of thinking was equally baffling and harebrained to French-speaking people.

And French-speaking people aren’t the only ones who think like that — the writers of our Bible, Jews and Greeks, thought exactly the same way. For people who see things that way, it is perfectly logical that the period from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning perfectly fulfills the prophecy of three days and three nights.

Someone might object that there were only two nights, Friday and Saturday. That again depends on how we look at things. We say last night was Tuesday night, but I got to bed just after midnight so all my sleep happened after it became Wednesday. If something newsworthy happened during the night, a French language newspaper, in order to be precise, would describe it as the night of Tuesday to Wednesday.

The way we see things is so blindingly obvious to us that it never even occurs to us that other people might see things in a completely different way. A generation after the Vietnam war, Robert McNamara came to the stunning conclusion that “those people don’t think like we do.”

George W Bush led the USA into a war in Iraq, thinking that the people over there would be overjoyed that the USA had come to liberate them. France refused to join this adventure, knowing full well that the reaction of the people in Iraq would be much different than Mr. Bush expected. Things might have turned out better if the US had asked the advice of the French instead of vilifying them.

These profound differences in the way people view events around them are something we need to be aware of when we attempt to share the gospel. We have framed the gospel in terms that make sense according to the paradigms of our own culture. We should not be too quick to assume that people of another culture have understood what we told them and rejected it. In all likelihood, their first impression is that we are trying to convert them to our culture. That can serve as a roadblock to further attempts to share the gospel. It would be better to take the time to learn their way of thinking and frame the gospel in terms that fit their understanding.

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