Re: Three days and three nights

From: Bill Barton (
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 01:12:13 EDT

To respond to this topic:

The NT notes 11 times that Jesus was raised on the "third day" (Matt 16:21;
17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor
15:4). The NT notes 10 times that Jesus was raised after "three days"
(Matt 26:61; 27:40, 63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 14:58; 15:29; John
2:19-20). See Thomas and Gundry, "The NIV Harmony of the Gospels," pp.
311-312. The NT twice refers to the timing as "three days and three
nights" (Matt 12:40).

The idiom "three days and three nights" is sometimes read to mean "part of
three daytimes and part of three nightimes." Discussions whether the idiom
can rightly be read this way typically involve the semantics of the Hebrew
word "onah" (ayin-vav-nun-heh) which means "season." In this context
"onah" refers to the two natural divisions of the day, that is, the daytime
is an onah and the nightime is an onah. A discussion on "onah" by John
Lightfoot is appended below. I'm not aware that the OT uses the word
"onah" so discussions of its meaning necessarily appeal to the Jewish
interpreters rather than to the OT itself.

The idiom "three days and three nights" and similar idioms do occur in the
Hebrew/Greek OT. However, their interpretation, in my view, is an issue of
semantics rather than grammar. So this question would appear to be of
little interest to the purpose of the B-Greek list.

Bill Barton

A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica

John Lightfoot

Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 12, 13

Hendrickson, A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 2, pp. 209-210

John Lightfoot

see website

Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 12, 13 Vol. 2, Pp. 209-210

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

[The Son of man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the
earth.] 1. The Jewish writers extend that memorable station of the unmoving
sun at Joshua's prayer to six-and-thirty hours; for so Kimchi upon that
place: "According to more exact interpretation, the sun and moon stood
still for six-and-thirty hours: for when the fight was on the eve of the
sabbath, Joshua feared lest the Israelites might break the sabbath:
therefore he spread abroad his hands, that the sun might stand still on the
sixth day, according to the measure of the day of the sabbath, and the
moon, according to the measure of the night of the sabbath, and of the
going-out of the sabbath; which amounts to six-and-thirty hours."

II. If you number the hours that passed from our Saviour's giving up the
ghost upon the cross to his resurrection, you shall find almost the same
number of hours; and yet that space is called by him "three days and three
nights," when as two nights only came between, and only one complete day.
Nevertheless, while he speaks these words, he is not without the consent
both of the Jewish schools, and their computation. Weigh well that which is
disputed in the tract Schabbath, concerning the uncleanness of a woman for
three days; where many things are discussed by the Gemarists concerning the
computation of this space of three days. Among other things these words
occur; "R. Ismael saith, Sometimes it contains four Onoth sometimes five,
sometimes six. But how much is the space of an Onah? R. Jochanan saith
either a day or a night." And so also the Jerusalem Talmud; "R. Akiba fixed
a day for an Onah, and a night for an Onah: but the tradition is, that R.
Eliezar Ben Azariah said, A day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an
Onah is as the whole." And a little after, R. Ismael computeth a part of
the Onah for the whole.

It is not easy to translate the word Onah into good Latin: for to some it
is the same with the half of a natural day; to some it is all one with a
whole natural day. According to the first sense we may observe, from the
words of R. Ismael, that sometimes four Onoth, or halves of a natural day,
may be accounted for three days: and that they also are so numbered that
one part or the other of those halves may be accounted for a whole. Compare
the latter sense with the words of our Saviour, which are now before us: "A
day and a night (saith the tradition) make an Onah, and a part of an Onah
is as the whole." Therefore Christ may truly be said to have been in his
grave three Onoth, or three natural days (when yet the greatest part of the
first day was wanting, and the night altogether, and the greatest part by
far of the third day also), the consent of the schools and dialect of the
nation agreeing thereunto. For, "the least part of the Onah concluded the
whole." So that according to this idiom, that diminutive part of the third
day upon which Christ arose may be computed for the whole day, and the
night following it.

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