Every year when Easter rolls around, there resurfaces debates on what day of the week Jesus was crucified. One can read lengthy and complex articles that champion the argument that He was crucified on Wednesday of Holy Week: then one can read other articles that vehemently contend that Jesus was crucified on Thursday; and finally one can read arguments that uphold the traditional view that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. While volumes have been written on this issue, I will be concise as possible in expressing my understanding on which day Jesus was crucified. Let me say at the outset, while the day of His crucifixion may invite lively debate, the most important truth is that He WAS crucified for our sins and that He DID arise from the dead…and that is be to our focus.
Now to adequately address the question as to when Jesus was crucified, let us look at Scripture. Mark 15:42 is clear that Jesus was crucified “the day before the Sabbath” (Mk 15:42), which would be a Friday. John records that the day Jesus was crucified “was the preparation of the Passover” (Jh 19:14). The Greek word translated “preparation” is paraskeue. Gleason Archer writes, “The word paraskeus had already by the first century A.D. become a technical term for ‘Friday’ and since every Friday was the day of preparation for Saturday, that is the Sabbath. In Modern Greek the word for ‘Friday’ is paraskeue.….Therefore, that which might be translated literally as “the preparation of the Passover” must in this context be rendered ‘Friday of Passover Week’” (Archer, Bible Difficulties, (MI: Zondervan, 1982), 375-76). The noted Greek scholar A.T. Robertson writes of the phrase the preparation of the Passover, “That is, Friday of Passover week, the preparation day before the Sabbath of Passover week (or feast) (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, “John”). Baptist scholar Herschel Hobbs in his commentary on John, asserts that the crucifixion “took place on the ‘the preparation,’ which was a technical term for Friday. Every Friday was called the preparation, (namely, for the Sabbath) (Hobbs, John, (MI: Zondervan, 1965), 89). The phrase “the day of preparation” normally was used to describe the day before the Sabbath, the day before being Friday (C. C. Torrey, “The Date of the Crucifixion According to the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 50:4 (1931), 241). It is clear the day in view in John 19:14, 31 is Friday, which corresponds to Mark’s account.
From the first-century Jewish historian Josephus we discover that the seven day festival was often designated ‘the Passover,’ and there can be no doubt as to the rendering ‘Friday.’ Josephus affirms that “the Passover” would refer to the whole eight-day feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread as well as the Passover day (Josephus, Antiquities, 14:2:1; 17:9:3). The day of preparation for the Passover, therefore, clearly refers to the Friday of the eight-day feast. This harmonizes with the other chronological references to the Passion Week in the Synoptic Gospels. While there are many commentators that build elaborate and complex arguments as to a what is considered a discrepancy between the Synoptic Gospels and John in regard to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and that there were two Sabbaths that week; however, the predominance of the Scriptural evidence and an understanding that paraskeue is a technical term for Friday aligns all four Gospels with the crucifixion occurring on Friday.
Now the contention of those who object to a Friday crucifixion is that Jesus could not have been crucified on Friday as it would not have fulfilled the prediction of Jesus that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth then rise from the dead on the third day (Matthew 12:40). Let it be noted that when one addresses the question as to what day Jesus was crucified one must not approach the Scriptures with Western thinking regarding time. Our Western mind logically views the phrase “three days and three nights” to be literal, whereas in the Jewish mind of the first century any part of a day was considered a full day (1 Sam. 30:12-13; 2 Chron. 10:5, 12; Esther 4:1; 5:1). The key to resolving the issue “three days and three nights” lies in an understanding of Jewish idioms. (A Jewish idiom is an expression that its actual meaning is different from the meaning of the literal words that make up the expression or phrase (i.e., to “kick the bucket” means to die – “kick the bucket” is an English idiom or expression that its actual meaning is different from the meaning of the literal words that make up the expression)). The Jewish idiom “three days and three nights” can refer to a combination of any part of three separate days, and as in the case of Jesus remaining in the tomb for a portion of three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – it would be proper to state as the Gospel writers and Paul did that He arose on the third day (Mark 8:31; I Cor. 15:4), which was the first day of the week (Sunday) (Mark 16:9). Since Jesus was in the grave for part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday—He could be considered to have been in the grave for three days. Furthermore, Mark 8:31 states that Jesus will be raised “after” three days. When the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:40 are seen from a Jewish perspective as a Jewish Idiom then He would not need to be in the grave a full three days and nights, but only three days – again in the Jewish mind of the first century any part of a day was considered a full day. It is understood this explanation does not satisfy everyone, yet it is less problematic than some of the complex and contorted explanations that have been put forth for a day other than Friday.
So, there is no contradiction between John and the Synoptics as the day on which Christ died – it was Friday, nor is there contradiction as to whether Jesus was raised on the third day – He was – as any part of a day was considered a full day! While this writer is confident with embracing the Scriptural and traditional view that Christ was crucified on a Friday, I would not fallout with anyone over the debate. The most important truth we need to focus upon is that Jesus DID die on the cross for our sins and that on the first day of the week (Sunday) our Lord DID arise from the dead and ever lives! O, what a Savior!