Oy Vey! What Day…Did Yeshua Die On?

I have to give an “oy vey” and throw my hands up in shock. I studied this issue probably about 15 years ago and actually thought the answer was quite simple when we know our Jewish Roots. However, it seems that this issue has grown quite complicated. When I recently performed a web search on this topic I was stunned at the abundance of articles. I thought the issue was settled a long time ago. When I preach the Jewish Roots in churches I get this question once in a blue moon and give my simple Jewish Roots answer. But lo and behold I did not know how prevalent the idea of Yeshua dying on Wednesday or Thursday had become. Even more shocking was the idea that 100% of the articles I found on the web thought it was preposterous to believe in the age old belief that Yeshua died on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday. Every writer believed that Jesus either died on a Wednesday or Thursday. It was also funny to see that each of these groups was totally against the others’ hypothesis. The Wednesday Group thought the Thursday group was wrong and vice versa. And it certainly seemed to me that each of the writers was feeding off of the others’ findings and just carrying the torch against a Friday death.

It reminded me about how Rashi wrote ~ 1,000 A.D. that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 was the nation of Israel rather than a single man. At first all the Rabbis were against Rashi’s new theology because it did not agree with the standard Jewish understanding from the time of Isaiah to 1,000 A.D. But since that time and to this day Rashi and his writings have become revered! How could any Jewish person today not believe what Rashi wrote or even question his authority? The point here is that all of today’s Rabbis just accept Rashi’s theology like it is God’s Word without any critical analysis.

I thought all of us believers were supposed to be like the Bereans and search/study and pray over the Scriptures when any new teaching comes our way. I hope this article is written to the standard that I adhere to: to be like a Berean. Please feel free to email me at richardh@cjfm.org with any comments. All Scriptures used are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

The used-to-be accepted historical position was that Yeshua died on Friday afternoon at 3 pm, was buried before sundown and resurrected on Sunday morning. The nay-saying came about because someone noticed an apparent contradiction with Yeshua’s proclamation to the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 12:40. He states, “for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

The nay-saying belief here is that Yeshua said it Himself that He would be in the heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights. Since He specifically mentions “3 days and 3 nights” we have to understand them as “three 24-hour days.” If we believe this to be true then it is quite impossible for Yeshua to be dead for 3 days and 3 nights from Friday to Sunday morning – there just aren’t enough days and nights to make it fit. Therefore, we have to come up with a suitable answer to make it fit and hence, the Wednesday or Thursday death idea was born.

But what if this assumption that “we have to understand” 3 days and 3 nights as three 24-hour days is wrong?! One writer emphatically stated that Yeshua’s specific mention of the “3 days and 3 nights” makes it a statement of fact and we should take these days as literally three 24-hour days. There was no source for this reasoning so I do not know where this writer got this type of understanding. However, there is a simple Jewish Roots answer to this dilemma which most of the writers of the articles know about but none seem to know how to apply the knowledge correctly! The answer is the “onah (pronounced “oh-nah”).”

For thousands of years the Rabbis’ understanding of the onah has been the same. Onah means “day.” But the issue at hand is, “How long is an onah or a day?” Rabbi Yochanan saith either a day or a night is equal to an “onah.” In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Akiba fixed a day for an onah and a night for an onah. Rabbi Ismael computeth a part of the onah for the whole. Rabbi Eliezar ben Azariah said, “A day and a night make an onah, and a part of an onah is as the whole.” The idea here is that part of a day is equal to a full day. So how does this apply to Yeshua’s death and resurrection?

When Yeshua died on Friday at 3 pm the Jewish people would not start counting the time from 3 pm that same day. The counting of time would start at the beginning of Friday because a part of a day equals a full day. Remember, the Jewish day actually officially begins after sunset. So the Jewish day is from sunset to sunset and not from midnight to midnight like our current system for accounting for a days’ timeframe. Therefore, when Yeshua died on Friday, Thursday night from sunset would be included in the accounting of the time. So the first day Yeshua was considered to be in the tomb ran from Thursday night to Friday eve (just before sunset). This day was also the Feast of Passover. The second day of Yeshua’s death was the shabbat (sabbath) day, which was also the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This day ran from Friday night at sunset through Saturday’s sunset. Then the third day of Yeshua’s death was the day after the shabbat which was Sunday (which was also the Feast of First Fruits). Sunday actually began on Saturday night and ran through all of Sunday. Yeshua resurrected on Sunday morning so this would include Saturday night as well (even if Yeshua resurrected on Saturday night this would still include all of Sunday as well).

Why is all this true? Simply put: because part of an onah is equal to a full onah! Counting the days and nights one should come up with: Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday. This equals 3 days and 3 nights! This is exactly what Yeshua said in Matt. 12:40 that He would be in the heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights! When you know your Jewish Roots and make the proper application, then all of Scripture should be easily reconciled. But you may be saying to yourself the onah is just a rabbinical viewpoint and how can we just believe it without Scriptural proof? You don’t have to because there is Scriptural proof!

Do you remember the story of Esther? King Ahasuerus chose Esther to become his new queen. Then the evil Haman’s plot of destroying all the Jews was made public and all the Jewish people were fasting, mourning, wailing and wearing sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai then asked Esther to make intercession for the Jewish people with the King. Esther replied in Esther 4:15-17,

15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16"Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish." 17So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.

The bold emphasis of V.16 shows that Esther requested her Jewish people to fast for her for 3 days and 3 nights. After the fast, then she would go in to see the king and ask for his help. Mordecai instructed the people and then we see what happens in 5:1:

1Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace in front of the king's rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace.

The bold in V.1 clearly states that on the third day of fasting Esther went before the king. So what happened to the third night? Did not Esther ask the Jewish people to fast for 3 days and 3 nights?! Was not Esther pleading with the people to fast for a full three 24-hour days? And yet on the third day she went before the king and did not wait for the third night! Why? Isn’t it obvious? The Jewish understanding of an onah is that part of a day is equal to the full day. In the Jewish mindset, once the third day started it was fulfilled as a full day. That’s why Esther went before the king without fasting a third night.

Therefore, when Yeshua stated that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights was He talking about three 24-hour days? No! He was talking about an onah or day that could be partially fulfilled.

Another apparent contradiction with the Friday death viewpoint is with Mark 15:42. It states,

42When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,

Actually this Scripture is not the apparent contradiction but the nay-sayers’ interpretation of this Scripture is the apparent contradiction with the Friday viewpoint. The nay-sayers believe there are other sabbaths than the weekly sabbath on Saturday. Some writers even believe there were up to 3 or 4 other sabbaths the week of Yeshua’s death! These writers claim there are seven “high sabbaths” each year in addition to the regular Saturday sabbaths. They believe the seven “high sabbaths” are actually the seven “Feasts of Israel” summarized in Lev. 23 and written about throughout the Torah. One writer even went so far to say that Passover was a sabbath!

In looking at the context of Mark 15:42 there is no indication that this Sabbath is not the Saturday sabbath that represents the normal use of the word “sabbath.” There are no indications this sabbath is any other day of the week or any other “high sabbath.” So why do the nay-sayers believe this? It is because of their belief concerning other Scriptures such as Exo. 12:16; Lev. 23:5-8; Num. 28:17. The thinking behind the belief goes like this: The Feasts of Israel are considered holy convocations; the sabbath is a holy convocation therefore the Feasts are sabbaths. The question is, “Is this biblically true?” The answer is “No!”

First, let’s take a look at the sabbath day. Lev. 23:3 states,

3'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.

The sabbath day was to be a holy day where no work was to be performed on the last day of the week, Saturday. All work such as cleaning, cooking, tending to animals and fields, etc. was to be abandoned on the sabbath. All such work that would have normally been performed on the sabbath was performed on the day before. The “sabbath of complete rest” (shabbat shabbaton) means exactly that: a sabbath day of rest. The sabbath day is not only a day of rest and not working but it is a day of “holy convocation.” (CBL, Hebrew – English Dict. Sin-Taw, 2000, 140-142) “Holy convocation” (mikra kodesh) means a “holy or sacred assembly.” (CBL, Hebrew – English Dict. Kaph - Mem, 2000, 631) The people were to rest and assemble in worship of the Lord and to do no work.

Now let’s take a look at the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Lev. 23:5-8:

5'In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD'S Passover. 6'Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7'On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. 8'But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.'"

Not one time is the word “shabbat” used for either of these Feasts. They certainly are holy convocations, God’s appointed times to worship Him (Lev. 23:4) but they are not sabbaths! But what about performing “laborious work” in V.7-8? “Laborious work (kol-mele’chet avodah) means “any work of service.” (CBL, OT, Vol. 3 Study Bible Lev.-Num., 1995, 244). This work of service does not include the essential work to survive on the day. The Rabbis state, “Whatever the interpretation of this term [mele’chet avodah], all agree that the preparation of food, including such labors as slaughter and cooking, is permitted on festivals that fall on weekdays.” (The Chumash, ArtScroll Series, 1994, 683) Besides the Rabbis interpretation on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, there is another verse that substantiates their belief. Exo. 12:16 states,

16'On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you. (bold emphasis is mine)

The context for Exo. 12 is the Lord giving instructions to Moses and Aaron concerning the Passover and Unleavened Bread. In V.16 we find the Lord declaring the first and seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are holy convocations. On these days no work shall be done “except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.” So, some work is allowed by the Lord for the Jewish people to be performed on the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So, can we conclude Unleavened Bread is a sabbath day of no work? Absolutely not! Certainly it is a holy day unto the Lord where some work is permitted but it is not a sabbath day of complete rest! That little bit of work makes a big difference!

Looking back to Lev. 23, we find only one Feast that is considered by the Lord to be a sabbath. In V.23-32, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is called a “shabbat shabbaton” (sabbath of complete rest) in V.32! Some other Feasts like Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) are holy convocations for rest and worship but during both feasts there is work permitted (V.24-25; 39-40)! For Yom Teruah, the same concept of the “laborious work” written above applies. For Sukkot, the Jewish people were commanded to go and pick up or chop down branches from selected trees to make sukkot (temporary shelters to live in). This is definitely working on a Feast day! While we are on this subject of working on Feast days, what about Passover?! There is certainly a full day’s worth of work in preparation for the Passover Seder. How can anyone say the Passover is a “shabbat” day of rest?! The idea of the Feasts of Israel being “high sabbaths” or other “sabbaths” is completely refuted by the Scriptures. So were there any other “sabbaths” during Yeshua’s last week on earth before His resurrection? The Scripture says, “No!”

There is a second reason why the nay-sayers believe there are other “sabbaths” during the week than the regular Saturday sabbath. Matt. 28:1 states,

1Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

After reading this verse in the English, it certainly sounds okay. However, in the Greek it is a different story. The Greek word for “Sabbath” is sabbaton. Sabbaton is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew shabbat. The strange thing about this term is that it is found to be in the plural! Therefore, the nay-sayers believe the English Bibles should read “sabbaths.” Since it is in the plural then it thus implies there was a plurality of “sabbaths” that week. The question is, “Is this a proper understanding of why sabbaton is in the plural?” I do not think so.

“Sabbaton” is used many times in the Gospels, Acts and two times in Paul’s epistles. “Sabbaton” means the “sabbath” but it also means a seven day period or a week. One occurrence of this definition is found in the above verse of Matt. 28:1 where “week” is found. The Greek word for “week” here is sabbaton! So why aren’t the nay-sayers upset with the translators on this issue. Shouldn’t the verse state, “Now after the sabbaths, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the sabbaths…” No! The second “sabbaths” just does not make sense. How about this rendition, “Now after the week (or the sabbath day that ends the week), as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week…” This understanding is more likely what the interpreters of the Greek decided it said and yet they put the word “sabbath” in there instead of “week.”

Another issue comes up when one performs a word study on sabbaton. One finds an unusual situation. The plural form of the word is often times translated to the English in the singular form. In looking at the book of Matthew we find sabbaton is used 11 times. Of these 11 uses, sabbaton is used 7 times in the plural. Of these 7 plural uses, sabbaton is translated into the English singular 6 times (Matt. 12:1, 12:5, 12:10, 12:11, 12:12, 28:1)! The seventh time the translators used “week” instead of “sabbaths” in Matt. 28:1! So most of the time the translators use the English singular for the Greek plural to translate sabbaton. This also occurs throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts. So why would the translators use the singular form when the Greek shows a plural form? That is a great question. If the meaning of having many “sabbaths” during the week was true then the translators would have to have the English in the plural to show us there is more than one “sabbath” in a week. But this is not true so instead they used the singular. Again, why? I really do not have an answer here for you other than speculation. My knowledge of Greek grammar does not run this strong! However, I believe I do have an answer.

When one sees the comparison between parallel passages of the Gospels and their interchangeable use of the singular and plural sabbaton, one can easily see there is a rather loose understanding of the plurality of sabbaton. The story in question concerns Yeshua and His disciples walking and eating through the grain fields on the Shabbat. The Pharisees saw the supposed transgression and asked why the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. In Matt. 12:1 and Mark 2:23, we find sabbaton is in the plural. But in the parallel passage of Luke 6:1 sabbaton is in the singular! In Matt. 12:2 sabbaton is in the singular. However, sabbaton in Mark 2:24 and Luke 6:2 are in the plural! (CBL Dictionary, Sigma – Omega, 1991, 12) If the plural form of sabbaton was so important to these writers and the Ruach Kodesh to show a plurality of sabbaths in a week, then why are they not consistent in the Greek? The story line is the same in each of these parallel passages and yet the writers inspired by the Holy Spirit interchange the singular form and plural form of sabbaton presumably without a care! It is as if the writers did not care which form: singular or plural to use in their Scripture writing! Therefore, I believe the plural form of sabbaton does not mean many “sabbaths” in a week but rather means “sabbath days.” The idea here is that work should not be performed on any sabbath days out of the whole year!

Another apparent contradiction with Yeshua’s Friday death viewpoint occurs in John 12:1,

1Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

The nay-sayers state that 6 days before the Passover would be a Sabbath if Yeshua died on a Friday. If it was a Sabbath then it would be a day that was legally out of the question for a devout Jewish man to travel on. First, if Passover landed on a Friday then six days before it is most certainly the Shabbat. Second, is it legally out of the question for devout Jewish people to travel on the Shabbat?

The answer is no! Even in today’s Judaism it is permissible to walk on the Shabbat. The question is how far are Jewish people allowed to walk?

Acts 1:12 shows us that a Sabbath’s day journey was from the Mt. Olives to the city of Jerusalem. This is approximately one half to three quarters of a mile. So it was acceptable for Jewish people to walk or travel on the Sabbath. A long journey from one city to the next city would be breaking the Law and be completely unacceptable. However, we do not necessarily see this occurring in John 12:1. We see Yeshua finishing His journey to Bethany at the end of the day for “they made Him a supper there…” (John 12:2). It certainly looks like Yeshua was walking to Bethany on a Friday and ended His journey before the Shabbat began Friday night (which is considered Saturday!) and then had supper with His friends! Even if He was unable to end His journey before the Sabbath day began, He would have been allowed to legally finish the rest of His journey.

Thus far, I have only answered the objections with the Friday death and Sunday resurrection view. Now let’s take a look at the Scriptures which show this view to be true.

John 19:14 shows us that the day Yeshua was crucified was the day of preparation for the Passover. It states,

14Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your King!"

Later in the chapter we see the same day described as being a Shabbat! John 19:31 states,

31Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Yeshua died on the same day of preparation for the Passover and the day of preparation for the Sabbath. It has already been established in this article that Passover is not considered a complete day of Sabbath rest. Passover is actually considered to be a day of work culminating in a wonderful Seder meal that connects with the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread! Therefore, the Passover day corresponds with the day of preparation for the Sabbath and this day is a Friday! Then, isn’t it better to understand this “high Sabbath day” as a Sabbath day that also has a Feast day occurring on it as well. That is why the Sabbath day is such a high or great day because it has a Feast occurring on it as well. The alternative viewpoint says the “high Sabbath day” is talking about having more Sabbaths during the week. Again, this idea was refuted earlier in this article.

Then in Mark 16:1-2 we see a direct correlation between the Sabbath day and the first day of the week showing the Sabbath day is the weekly Saturday! It states,

1And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

2And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

V.1 tells us that when the Sabbath was done, the Mary’s came to Yeshua’s tomb to anoint His body. Then in V.2 we find the very important word “and” (kai in the Greek). This little conjunction connects the thought of the V.1 with V.2. Therefore, it connects the Sabbath with the next day, the first day of the week, Sunday. This shows without a doubt that the Sabbath day is the weekly Saturday sabbath! If this is not enough convincing for you then please take a look at the parallel passage of Matt. 28:1 which describes the same event.

1Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

Should we look any further! Matt. 28:1 tells us plainly that after the Sabbath came the first day of the week which is obviously Sunday. So is this Sabbath any other day than Saturday? Of course not! This Sabbath day is the exact same Sabbath day in Mark 16:1 and they are both Saturdays!

Some of the nay-sayers also like to point out an apparent contradiction of Mark 16:2 with the ladies visiting the tomb “when the sun had risen” with John 20:1 showing that it “was still dark.” One writer showed this apparent contradiction and tried to explain that it added days between the death and resurrection. However, it is easily explained. It was still dark when they started walking to the tomb and by the time they got to the tomb the sun had risen! Please remember the tomb was outside the city and the Mary’s were sleeping overnight inside the city! It took some time for them to walk the distant from where they were staying to the tomb. Obviously it took enough time to go from darkness just before the sunrise to the rising of the sun!

In summary, it is easy to get carried away with some people’s findings concerning any Scripture. But the Lord encourages us all to be like Bereans, meaning that we should search and study the Scriptures when presented with new information or new teachings. This article has endeavored to do this. I’m sure there are other apparent contradictions to the Friday death viewpoint which I have not found as yet. However, when you know your Jewish Roots some answers can be obtained!

In this article, I have been able to show that the Friday death viewpoint stands up to all the opposition and should be believed!