I was challenged by a reader a while back to examine a long-held assumption by many Christians that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion occurred on a Friday. The individual cited several passages in the Bible they believed proved that Wednesday was the true date of the crucifixion. I examined the issue fairly as I could and now present the results of my study in this article.
Crucifixion General Timeframe
Christ’s crucifixion took place sometime during the time Pontus Pilate served as governor of Judea province for the Roman Empire between 26 A.D. to 36 A.D. Jesus’s crucifixion took place on the Eve of Passover, which is on the 14th day of Nisan of the Jewish calendar (Passover is on Nisan 15). Most Christian scholars believe that the crucifixion took place on either a Wednesday or a Friday between 30 A.D. and 33 A.D.1 This criterion leaves two possible dates as the true date of the crucifixion: Wednesday April 3, 30 A.D., Friday April 1, 33 A.D.
Buying and Preparing the Spices
A heavily debated item between those who support a Wednesday crucifixion and those who support a Friday crucifixion is the timing of when Mary and others bought and prepared spices before they went to anoint Christ’s body. Here are the two verses driving this debate:
“(54) And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. (55) And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. (56) And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:54-56)
“(1) And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. (2) And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” (Mark 16:1-2)
Proponents of a Wednesday Crucifixion and proponents of a Friday Crucifixion both can provide acceptable explanations for what happened. Here is what each side can argue:
- Wednesday Proponents: The women prepared some spices and ointments before the high Sabbath (Passover). After Passover the women bought and prepared more spices before they rested on the weekly Sabbath.
- Friday Proponents: Some spices and ointments were prepared just before the weekly Sabbath and the Passover high Sabbath (both fell on the same day) and more spices were bought and prepared Saturday evening following passage of the two Sabbaths.
Three Days and Three Nights
The key detail driving the Wednesday vs. Friday crucifixion date debate is Matthew 12:40. In this verse Christ told the Pharisees that he would spend “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”:
“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 12:40)
Many supporting the Wednesday crucifixion state that the term “three days and three nights” translates to mean a literal 72-hour period. I can see why people would instinctively do that, but the term “three days and three nights” was not a phrase that signified seventy-two hours. The term was an idiom whose basic meaning in New Testament days was equivalent to the meaning of the term “day after tomorrow” nowadays. We can see that “three days and three nights” does not equate to a literal seventy-two hour period by looking at a comparable term: “the third day”. Christ told His followers that He would rise from the dead on “the third day”:
“(33) Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: (34) And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34)
“The “third day” is comparable to “three days and three nights” because they both represent the amount of time that Christ would be dead. “The third day” does not represent a literal seventy-two hour period. In fact, Luke 13:32 strongly suggest that “the third day” covers a span of time equivalent to the day after tomorrow:
“And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day [today] and to morrow [the next day], and the third day [the day after tomorrow] I shall be perfected.” (Luke 13:32)
Given this and the interchangeability between “three days and three nights” and “the third day” to describe the amount of time Christ would be dead, we can conclude that the term “three days and three nights” is equivalent to the day after tomorrow. Therefore, the crucifixion likely occurred on a Friday instead of a Wednesday since Sunday, the date of Christ’s resurrection, fell on the day after tomorrow from Friday.
Regardless of whether you agree with my conclusion or not, it is important to recognize that Wednesday crucifixion proponents and Friday crucifixion proponents recognize that Christ was crucified since not every believes He was crucified.