Granting the time of the year, the title of this post may strike some as a bit odd, since tomorrow is traditionally labeled “Good Friday” and this coming Sunday is Easter. And this is likely one of those things that could be filed under “Good to think about, but not necessarily of great doctrinal import.” Nevertheless, several years ago the then deceased James M. Boice convinced me through a recorded sermon (I believe on a text in Matthew) that Jesus was not crucified on a Friday (as is traditionally held) but that he was crucified on a Thursday. The reasons are as follows:
1. Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is not three days
Jesus said on multiple occasions, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, [and] after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Now I know it is argued that the time of his death in the Good Friday scenario spans three different days, it however is not three complete days. In fact, by length of time, Friday afternoon to Sunday is actually less than two days (39 hours, if Christ died at 3 pm on Friday and was raised at 6 am on Sunday). Furthermore, Jesus said that his death would be the “Sign of Jonah”:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).
If we are to understand Christ’s words in this text naturally, he said that he would be in the heart of the earth three days and nights, which in the Good Friday scenario is only (at most) three days and two nights. In a Good Thursday scenario, Jesus would be dead and buried for three days (since the sun is still in the sky at 3 pm) and three nights (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights).
2. The “Sabbath” in Matthew 28 is actually “Sabbaths”
In Matthew 28:1, the apostle writes:
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
What’s interesting about this verse is the way that has been translated. In the original, Matthew writes: “Now after the Sabbaths” (σαββάτων), where “Sabbath” is plural. This is interesting because elsewhere in his gospel, Matthew uses “Sabbath” in its singular form (σάββατον, cf. Matt. 12:5). The reason, as Boice argued and I believe, is that the Passover actually occurred on Friday rather than Saturday, as is traditionally held. This would have made there to be two consecutive Sabbaths (Passover on Friday, regular Sabbath on Saturday), hence the plural form used by Matthew after Jesus’ death. This scenario would then make it so that the women would have had to wait two days rather than one to anoint Jesus’ body.
What this means
The implications of this, if true, aren’t that great, aside from the implication that Church tradition is wrong. The Death and Resurrection of Christ are events that should be celebrated every day of the year, not just on Good Friday (or Good Thursday) and Easter. This however might aggravate some who esteem some days as holier than others, even so I don’t think any of these will need to worry about finding “Good Friday” replaced by “Good Thursday” on their calendars any time soon. It’s simply a thought founded on Christ’s words and the biblical text. In other words, celebrate the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your lives.