Today is Good Friday. Before you read the rest of this post, I want you to hold the answers to two questions in your head: 1) What day of the week did Jesus die? and 2) What day of the week was his tomb found empty? Got the answers? Good.
Yesterday at lunch, I had more or less the following discussion with my in-laws:
Me: "Mmmm! These are good beans! Is that a bit of a meaty flavor?" Wife: "No. We're not having meat today, tomorrow, or the next day." Me: "Why not?" Wife: "Because Jesus is dead." Me: "Jesus has been dead for a long time." Wife: "Because Jesus is symbolically dead."
. . . some bean consumption . . .
Me: "But Jesus isn't even symbolically dead yet. He symbolically dies tomorrow on Good Friday." Mom-in-law: "It's like the saying goes, 'Christ died on Thursday, was buried on Friday, on Saturday came the glory, and on Sunday he ascended.'" [that's loosely translated] Me: "No, I'm pretty sure he died on Friday." Wife: [with a "drop it!" look on her face] "If the saying says it, it's true for us!" Me: "Okay."
After lunch, I wandered over to the Good Friday wikipedia entry and saw that I had been correct. Christ died on Friday. Score one for me! That night, as I was lying in bed, I started to think about this topic again. Something wasn't right. Jesus was supposed to be dead for three days before disappearing, but there are only two days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Surely they don't call it three days if he died at noon on Friday and was found missing on Sunday at dusk. That's only 2 days and 6 hours! Could the Spanish saying of his Thursday death be correct? So I asked Google. It turns out the answer, like most things in The Bible, is fuzzy at best.
Apparently it's really, really important that Jesus was dead for exactly three days and three nights, since that is how he promised to prove to his followers that he was the Messiah. So out goes the Friday to Sunday idea. What day did he die? Well, three different scriptures all say "the day before the Sabbath". This leads most people to conclude that it was Friday. But apparently they used the term Sabbath for all kinds of religious holidays, such as the first day of Passover, no matter what day of the week it fell on. And not only that, but there are other references to there being multiple Sabbaths that week. There goes the Good Friday death theory.
Unfortunately, the same goes for the Sunday ascension. The two lines of scripture that relate the day of the week to finding Jesus' tomb empty both say that it happened on the evening of the Sabbath, and thus probably on Saturday evening. Oops.
The most reasonable conclusion to me, given that any of this stuff is remotely true, is that he died on Wednesday, there was an irregular Sabbath on Thursday, and his tomb was found empty on Saturday evening, three days and three nights after his death. If you answered Wednesday and Saturday to the questions at the beginning of this post, pat yourself on the back and have a Cadbury Creme Egg.
Personally, I'm amazed that the details of something like the key to eternal salvation would be so poorly understood. It just goes to show how people like the idea so much that they actively try not to think about or investigate the details. Both my American cultural understanding and my family's Spanish cultural understanding were flawed.
Most of my research for this post was done on this wonderfully detailed Bible study page.