According to Matthew 12:40, "the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (NIV). Now if Jesus was crucified on Friday (the day before the Sabbath -- John 19:31), and rose on Sunday morning (Luke 24:1-3), that leaves only Friday night and Saturday night that he was "in the ... earth." That's only two nights. I can live with part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday being the "three days," but what of the "three nights" noted in Matthew 12:40? -- Ric Dargusch (Boston)

The problem is that you and I do not count the way the ancients counted. We nearly always count exclusively; they nearly always counted inclusively.

I once noticed in Latin III (9th grade) that the letters of Cicero were dated funnily (at least according to my sensibilities). I routinely found phrases like, "The fifth day after the first of the month." To the ancient Romans -- get this! -- that meant the 5th of the month. We of course would read it as the 6th. But they counted with inclusive reckoning, counting the first and last items in a series. (They counted the way all of us did when we were children!) Thus the fifth day after the first (for them) was the fifth. Of course I protested to my Latin teacher, but to no avail.

I found the same to be the case with ancient Greek and even ancient Hebrew documents. According to rabbinic reckoning, part of a day or night counted as a full day or night (bPesahim 4a, yShabbath 2a). Like it or not, the ancients counted differently to the way we do.

That is how one gospel can say "after three days" (Mark 8:31) another records Jesus as saying "on the third day" (Matthew 16:21) and yet the meaning is the same in each case. Friday-Saturday-Sunday is three days; and Sunday is "three days" after Friday. Did you know that is how ancient peoples usually counted?

For another biblical example, compare Esther 4:16 and 5:1. 

There is one little detail remaining, though: the nights/days. We would consider "three days and three nights" to be 72 hours or so, since nights and days were mentioned. And yet to the Hebrews, a day (usually) means a night and a day. Thus "three days" is equivalent to three nights and three days. Never mind that it could equally well (as in this case) signify one night, a day, another night, and part of the following morning -- scarcely 36 hours!

The distinction is important; you will come across this anomaly a number of times in the Scriptures.
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