Three days and three nights


I’m sure this has been brought up before, but the verse I’m struggling with (and which I’m concerned someone may throw my direction some day) is Matt. 12:38-40, in which Christ prophesies that he will "be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Our tradition holds that he died on Good Friday and rose on Sunday. I’ve always understood this to be three days (what remains of Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday). Yet, where are the “three nights”?

I’ve tried to do searches and find Catholic discussions of this, but have only hit the opposite. Some valid points are made, such as that, on the morning of his resurrection, when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb, John 20:1 says it was still dark, making it hard to understand “part of Sunday” as a third “day”.

The sites I’ve found make the argument for a Wednesday burial (and a Saturday resurrection) due to the “three days, three nights” chronology and due to evidence like this:

“These women bought and prepared spices “when the Sabbath had past” and then “rested on the Sabbath”! They rested twice: once on “a high day” and once on the weekly Sabbath two days later.
This can mean only one thing! Jesus was crucified and buried on a Wednesday, the holy day fell on Thursday, the women prepared spices on Friday and our Savior was resurrected at sunset on the Sabbath as the day ended! The events cannot be worked out any other way with the plain evidence provided in the Holy Scriptures!” (from

I’m sure I’m missing something or that there are some errors in omitance in this argument and will continue digging, but I hoped that someone in this forum has wrestled with this before or sees the obvious that I’m missing. Thanks in advance for your help.


By searching through past threads, I may have found the answer to my own question here:

I’ll have to read more closely later, but it seems to have a solid refutation of the “three days, three nights” verse, as well as the “two Sabbath” theory put forth by some groups.

Your comments are still welcome.


The problems here is that people of today tend to think in a purely western way. We often forget the times and traditions in which the Gospel writers lived. Tradition held that a day and a night make an onah, and a part of an **onah **is the same as the whole. Three days and three nights aren’t necessarily more than the combination of any part of three separate days - in Jewish Rabbinical teaching.

Friday - day and night
Saturday - day and night
Sunday - day and night

Any part of these 3 days constituted a whole. Hence **3 **days and 3 nights
If we only thought in terms of the modern times that we live in - we would NEVER understand the Gospels - or the Bible for that matter.

This explains the Catholic position about as good as I’ve ever heard:

"Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" - St. Jerome


awful << I’ll have to read more closely later, but it seems to have a solid refutation of the “three days, three nights” verse, as well as the “two Sabbath” theory put forth by some groups. >>

I’ll stand by what I wrote there in 1998. :smiley: My chart may be a little off, and I didn’t necessarily deal with the “two sabbath” objection (high day vs. regular), but all the scholars I checked didn’t see a distinction. Jesus died Preparation day which was “the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42) which would be Friday. From my article:

The technical term “Preparation” (Greek Paraskeue / Latin Parasceve) is used for FRIDAY as well in the deuterocanonical books of Judith (8:6) and Second Maccabees (8:26), in the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 16:163), and in the early non-canonical Christian documents, Didache (8:1) and the Martyrdom of Polycarp (7:1).

“The day on which Christ died is called ‘the Preparation’ in Mark 15:42 and John 19:31…The same day is in view in Matt 27:62 where the events recorded took place on ‘the day after the Preparation’ (RV). The reference would be to the 6th day of the week [or FRIDAY]. The title arose from the need of preparing food etc. for the Sabbath.” (Vine, page 483)

Jesus died on Friday, and rose on Sunday. The “inclusive” reckoning of part of a day as a whole day explains “three days and three nights” just fine. Only weird adventist or other cult-like groups use this for a “Wednesday” crucifixion, but here is a baptist defending it. I haven’t traced the history of this. The old “Worldwide Church of God” (Herbert Armstrong, influenced by Adventism, etc) also had an obsession with the “Wednesday” crucifixion idea. But here is the later WCG changing their mind on the doctrine.

Phil P


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit