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Faith/Spirituality Forum: The Day Jesus Died

by Catherine Frakas 23 Sep 2001

The Day Jesus Died QUESTION from Campbell on June 10, 2002 Although I wish to make it clear that my intention here is not to cast doubt on Church teaching, your answer on this subject did not address some of my own questions on the issue, which my wife and I were discussing recently. The argument, I believe, originated in The Plain Truth magazine, whose organization, to put it mildly, is not known for Catholic-friendliness.
Specifically, cited was Jesus' refutation of the people's demand for a sign, saying, The only sign you shall recieve is the sign of Jonah, for as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the big fish, so the Son of Man will spend three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth (my paraphrase).
So, taken literally, Jesus predicted himself in the bowels of the earth (given historical context, presumably the Hebrew/Aramaic sheol, or abode of the dead) for three days and three nights. Although certainly not every passage of scripture ought to be taken literally, a literal reading seems appropriate in this case, as Jesus was drawing a direct parallel to be used as a sign-apparently enjoining the people that when they see Jonah's story paralleled in Christ's life, they would know that they had been wrong about Him, and errant in demanding a sign. Furthermore, he was apparently referring to an actual historical event, His death and resurrection, bolstering a literal view of this citation. However, given our understanding of the events, Jesus spent only one full day, two full nights, and, at the most, two partial days in the bowels of the earth. Although the one day and two partial days could arguably be construed as satisfying His prediction of three days, Friday and Saturday night cannot be construed, in any way of which I am aware, as three nights, but rather are only two. My question, then, is twofold:
1) As the Nicene creed states that on the third day He rose again, and as this could be construed in the sense of after three days, does the Church anywhere explicitly present as a point of faith the premise that the day of crucifixion was immediately followed by a single day of vigil, and this immediately followed by the day of resurrection? Since the feasts recognizing the events of Christ's life obviously do not follow a perfect timeline (else we would require a thirty-three-year liturgical calendar), could the placement of the feasts of the Triduum be symbolic rather than a direct parallel to the actual timeline?
2) If it is unquestionably true that Christ died on Friday, lay in the tomb on Saturday, and rose on Sunday, then, given my interpretation of Christ's prediction of His descent as presented above, what am I missing in my understanding of that passage of scripture? How is my exegesis lacking?
God bless you and your work in maintaining awareness of Orthodoxy within the Church.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 6, 2002 Dear Mr. Campbell:
Sorry for the long delay. Your question was transferred to me and in the process was lost for a while. I have re-dated your post to June 10th so that our system will make your question appear toward the top of the list instead of back in April.
Your posting is in response to a question answered by Mr. Martz back in March. The link to the original question is: The day Jesus died
On Question #1: It appears that you want to make a presumption about the language of the Apostles Creed (and the Bible) to fit a pre-conceived idea. The phrase on the third day He rose again, DOES NOT imply and DOES NOT construe to be after three days.
In accord with Jewish reckoning Jesus rose on the Third Day. Day One was Friday, Day Two was Saturday, and Day Three is Sunday.
Jesus died toward the END of the day on Friday. Friday is counted as the first day.
It is as simple as that and is not disputed by any recognized orthodox scholar in the Protestant world or the Catholic world.
On Question #2: What you are missing is the definitive authority of the Church. The Bible is NOT the sole authority. The Bible itself says that. Second, the Bible is NOT to be interpreted on one's own. The Bible also says that.
The sign of Jonah is a symbol; the symbol of three days. The actual historical event was three days in reckoned according to the Jewish custom.
This is not rocket science. This has been the interpretation of these events for 2000 years. The idea that Jesus did not die on a Friday is a modern invention from the minds of men.
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