The Christian Origins of Easter
Was Jesus executed on a Wednesday
& resurrected on the following Saturday?
There is a near consensus among Christians that Jesus was executed on a
Friday by the occupying Roman Army, and resurrected on the following Sunday morning.
However, there have always been alternate explanations for the timing of the
various events associated with his execution and resurrection. One theory is
that Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon, and was resurrected on Saturday
evening. The empty tomb was discovered on Sunday morning, an unknown interval after
Jesus had left it.
One Sabbath or two?:
An initial clue that might point to a Wednesday crucifixion is found in
Matthew 28:1. This passage discusses Mary and "the other Mary" making
a Sunday morning visit to the tomb where Jesus' body had been placed. This
was after their weekly Sabbath which ran from Friday sunset to Saturday
sunset. The following are translations according to the:
New English Bible: "The Sabbath was over,...."
New International Version: "After the Sabbath,..."
Jerusalem Bible: "After the Sabbath,..."
King James Version: "In the end of the Sabbath...came Mary
Living Bible: "Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene..."
Philips Modern English: "When the Sabbath was over..."
Revised Standard Version: "Now after the sabbath...."
Today's English Version: "After the Sabbath,...
However, less commonly used translations of the Bible render Sabbath in
Young's Literal Translation: "And on the eve of the Sabbaths..."
Alfred Marshall's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Green's
Literal Translation, and Ferrar Fenton's Translation also render "Sabbaths"
in plural form. To most Christians, the original Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew
copies of the Bible are much more important than any English translation.
The Greek in this passage also refers to Sabbaths (plural).
Many people do not realize that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
discusses two different kinds of Sabbaths:
||One type occurs on a weekly basis, from Friday sunset to Saturday
||The other type -- called "high days" consist of the seven annual
Sabbath days listed in Leviticus 23. These could occur on any day of the
Unless the plural form of Sabbath in Matthew 28:1 was an error by the author of Matthew, or an error
subsequently made by a copyist or translator, then the week in which Jesus was executed
must have contained two Sabbaths, not one.
The presence of the second Sabbath -- a High Sabbath -- is confirmed in
King James Version: "The Jews therefore, because it was the
preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the
sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought
Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken
It mentions that Jesus' body had to be quickly removed from the cross
before sundown, to avoid polluting the land. This is based on Deuteronomy
"And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be
put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all
night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for
he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled...."
A second confirmation is found in Mark 16 and Luke 23:
Mark 16:1: 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.
Luke 23:55-56: And the women also, which came with him from
Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was
laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested
the sabbath day according to the commandment.
So, after the first Sabbath -- the high day -- had passed, three of
Jesus' female followers bought spices in order to care for Jesus' body. Then
they prepared the spices, and later rested on the second Sabbath day,
How many days were between Jesus' execution and resurrection?
A number of passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) mention
that three days would pass between Jesus' death and resurrection. Yet
traditional belief is that he died on Friday before sunset, and was
resurrected on Sunday morning. That interval consists of only a few hours on
Friday, Saturday which ran from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, and part
of Sunday morning -- a total of perhaps a day and a half, not three. This
discrepancy is normally rationalized by counting each part of a day -- part
of Friday and part of Sunday -- as a full day. But this conflicts with
"But he [Jesus] 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." (Emphasis ours)
If Jesus died on Friday afternoon before sunset then Friday counts as one
day and one night. All day Saturday also counts as one day and one night.
Sunday doesn't count because John 20:1 says:
"The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was
yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the
That is, Mary came to the tomb while it was still night. So we end up
with two days and two nights -- one day and one night short.
Possible explanations to the discrepancy:
Conservative Christians view the autograph -- original -- copies of the
books in the Bible to be the Word of God. Its authors wrote text that is without error under God's inspiration. One approach to harmonize the
conflicting passages described above would be to assume that Matthew 39:40
did not specify "three days and three nights." It actually referred
to three "days" (or partial days), as in other biblical passages. The
wording that we see in Matthew would then be the result of a copyist error.
Liberal Christians see no problem here. They interpret the Bible as a
historical document, and not inerrant. They view
the four gospels as written by individuals or groups who were not
eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus' life. The authors relied on many oral
traditions which varied from each other. When one compares passages from
various gospels, one can anticipate errors and assume that they cannot be
There is at least one more possibility: Jesus might have been crucified
on a Wednesday afternoon, and resurrected on Saturday evening. The
chronology would look something like this:
Tuesday: Jesus and his disciples ate an evening meal
together, and was arrested.
Wednesday: This is the preparation day mentioned in John
19:31. i.e. the day before the high-day Sabbat. Jesus appears
before Pilate, and is crucified; he dies about 2 PM in the afternoon,
before sundown. His body is removed from the stake or cross and placed
in the tomb.
Thursday: This is a high Sabbath day: the first day of
Unleavened Bread, mentioned in Matthew 27:62.
Friday: Jesus' female followers purchased spices.
Saturday: This was a regular weekly Sabbath, different from
the high Sabbath day on Thursday. All rested and did no work during the
day. Jesus was resurrected sometime in the afternoon before sunset.
Sunday: Mary Magdalene (by herself according to the Gospel of
John or with other women according to the synoptic gospels) went to the
tomb and found it empty.
Adding up the days and nights:
Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon and is laid "in the heart of
the earth" (Matthew 12:40) at or just before sunset.
||The first night and first day passes: Wednesday sunset to Thursday
||The second night and day passes: Thursday sunset to Friday sunset.
||The third 12 hour night passes between Friday sunset and Saturday
||Part of the third 12 hour day passes on Saturday, and Jesus is
resurrected before sunset.
||The woman or women find the empty tomb very early on Sunday morning.
According to The Good News magazine:
"Several computer software programs exist that enable us to calculate
when the Passover and God's other festivals fall in any given year.
Those programs show that in A.D. 31, the year of these events, the
Passover meal was eaten on Tuesday night and Wednesday sundown marked
the beginning of the 'high day,' the first day of the Feast of
This agrees well with the many theologians' estimate that Jesus was
executed sometime between the years 29 and 32 CE.
It is a neat theory, but has little chance of being accepted because of
almost two millennia of church tradition supports a Good Friday execution
Sunday resurrection. Also if Jesus actually was resurrected on Saturday afternoon, then
the church's justification for moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday
would collapse, and the 35,000 or so Christian faith groups whose prime day
for religious services is Sunday would have to
admit that their movement of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday was not justified.
"Jesus wasn't crucified on Friday -- or Resurrected on Sunday!,"
The Good News magazine , United Church of God, 2006-MAR-APR, Pages 13 to
15. Online at: http://www.gnmagazine.org/
Copyright 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-MAR-29
Latest update: 2018-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson