Wednesday 31 March 2021

Jesus said he'd spend 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth. But he only spent 2 in the grave. Why? (Answered.)

Someone asked:

'Can anyone help by answering the following question, I'd really appreciate it...

'How can we justify the verse below Matt 12:40 "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."

'Can someone please guide also to explain how it makes 3 days when Jesus rose on Easter Sunday?'

My answer to this question is as follows:

Obviously, with days, we can easily calculate based on each day starting at Sunset in the Jewish reckoning, Friday is day 1, Saturday is day 2, and Sunday, starting at about 6pm on Saturday is day 3. 

In the early morning as it had begun to get light the ladies approached Jesus's tomb to be informed that he was risen from the dead by an angel, while the tomb was unoccupied.

Now, usually you will hear that 3 days and 3 nights is a shorthand for saying that part of 3 days would be spent in some way or other, but even taking it as literal, as in part of 3 days and part of 3 nights, what Jesus said in the Greek still makes sense and his prophesy is still confirmed. I will add that the bible makes it clear that Jesus was buried on the Friday before the weekly Sabbath and arose on Sunday, after it. Arguments otherwise are ahistorical and not in the text.

But Jesus only spent two nights in the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled in front of it.

3 days, 2 nights. Not 3 days, 3 nights as in the prophesy Jesus made in relation to himself and Jonah. That creates another problem, should one not accept it as mere shorthand, which going to the Greek original actually answers nicely.

The Greek states that after the Sabbath on the first day of the week, as it had begun to become light, the ladies approached the tomb. That can only be Sunday. But Jesus only spent 2 nights in the tomb. 

He says that the sign of Jonah will be given to a wicked generation. He then says as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the fish's belly, so shall he be in the heart of the earth. The implication of course, if read in English rather than in the Greek of the New Testament, is that Jonah died while in the fish, and was raised to life again. Jesus seems to be referencing that. But he did not arise on Monday, but the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week, which can only be Sunday.

In Hebrew, the word used in the story of Jonah refers not just to night but to adversity, an idea Jesus carries forward into the New Testament. He seems to prophesy that he is safe during the day, as he will be attacked by evil men at night, which he is, in being arrested on the night of Holy Thursday (or Friday in the Jewish reckoning where night comes first).

In the especially literal Lexham English Bible translation the verse is rendered as:

'Matthew 12:40 (LEB): For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.'

The word translated as heart literally means the organ, but figuratively means the volition/will/intellect or emotional state. Many translations interpret the phrase as grave. 

But let us assume for a moment Jesus is talking about being 3 days in the power of death, in that case the night before, when Jesus had the last supper, what we would call Thursday night and what the Jews would call Friday night, would be the first day Jesus spent in the heart of the earth. i.e. in the power of death/the devil. Here is where he is arrested and tried by evil men. That makes it 3 nights Jesus was in the power of the Devil and of Death.

'καρδία (Lat. cor, Hebr. lēb, lēbab), (A) lit. the heart, as an organ of the body; (B) mind covers the non-physical sense best: (a) personality, character, inner life (illa uis qua cogitationes fiunt, Augustine, De nat. et orig. animae iv 6 § 7), e.g. 1 Cor. 14:25, 1 Pet. 1:22; (b) emotional state, e.g. Rom. 9:2; (c) mind, intellect, e.g. Rom. 1:21; (d) will, volition, intention, e.g. Rom. 2:5.' (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament.)

The ancient Greek word translated as the word earth means soil, but can extend to a territory or to the whole physical mass of the Earth. It also appears elsewhere in the New Testament as a reference to the things of the earth, or in the LEB, what is earthly in you, which it makes clear is not the literal translation, via the use of square brackets; the literal translation of the phrase is, 'the members of the earth', in the said verse which I will now quote along with what follows it:

'Colossians 3:5–7 (LEB): 5 Therefore put to death ⌊what is earthly in you⌋: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire, and greediness, which is idolatry, 6 because of which the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which also you once lived, when you used to live in them.'

The heart of the earth likely in being heard by the audience of Jesus might have been heard as a reference to being put into the power of evil men and of the Devil, especially given the reference to the adversity Jonah experienced in the tomb of the large sea creature's belly. That Saint Paul later refers to the members of the earth, of which if the earth were a body, the figurative heart would perhaps be included as a member, seems to lend towards this.

Jesus spent part of 3 days in the tomb. He also spent part of 3 days and 3 nights in the power of the devil. Just as Job in being placed in the power of the devil immediately experienced tragedy, Jesus, in being in the heart of the earth, was arrested, falsely tried, defamed, tortured and killed and spent time in the grave (part of 3 days). 3 days in the stomach of a fish, or 3 in the power of evil, seem to correlate. 

That does not mean the classical answer many give, that days are calculated differently, wrong, they are calculated differently. It just perhaps adds another shade of meaning.

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