Counting Less Than Whole Days
If someone says, “I was at a conference for three days,” we naturally assume that this does not mean for 72 hours, but for part of a day, a whole day, and another part of a day, perhaps arriving at 8 a.m. on the first day and leaving at 4 p.m. on the last day, which is a total time of 56 hours. If someone says that they had a migraine headache for three days and three nights, then clearly we realize that this person wants us to know how long he or she suffered, but we also assume that this does not mean 72 hours. If someone says they were at an art and music festival for three days and three nights, likewise we do not assume this has to be 72 hours.
If someone says, “I was at the bowling alley four nights this week,” then we do not assume that whole nights are meant.
Why then do some people assume that “three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40 must mean a whole 72 hours? Clearly a day at the beginning of the period can be a part day and the night at the end can be a part night. In fact, the end point days or nights of such statements are usually partial days or nights, or at least usually not all 12 hours.
Counting days most often means part days at the end points of the counting. This does not mean a part day is counted as a whole or reckoned as a whole. This is because the language is allowed to mean part days or part nights in the first place in making up a number of days or nights. In other words, three days and three nights are not whole days that are reckoned as parts. It does not have to mean whole days in the first place. The true explanation is that so many days and nights can involve part days or nights at the end points in the first place. That is what is normally meant.
An exception to this rule is only made when it is specified so many complete days and nights, or so many twenty-four hour days and nights. And this we do not see in Matthew 12:40. The interpretation of so many days and nights as involving part days or nights at the start and end is not simply a Hebrew idiomatic understanding. It is also an English idiomatic understanding, as proved from the examples given. I am sure the reader can think of their own examples.
To insist that three days and three nights means three 12 hour days and three 12 hour nights is to ignore the normal meanings, or the meaning that normally turns out to be the case, in which the starting day and ending night turns out to be somewhat less than a perfect 12 hours. Insisting on 72 hours might be like insisting that three days are followed by three nights, i.e. D + D + D + N + N + N, instead of D+N, D+N, D+N. Night follows each day in the normal fashion of things.
Counting an endpoint as less than a full day or night is the norm in Scripture. Judges 14:17-18 says, “She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her.” Then the men of the city solved his riddle on the seventh day before the sun went down. We see here that she did not weep the whole of the seventh day. She must have stopped weeping when he told her the answer.
1Kings 20:29 says that Israel camped opposite the Syrians for seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. Again, in this case, they broke camp and joined the battle lines before the seventh day was over.
The inclusion or mention of nights, or even a count of nights does not change the norm for the starting day or ending night to be partial. Esther says to fast for three days, night and day. She is speaking of three calendar days since the three days in question may contain nights and days. Esther invited the king on the third day to a feast that very day. Clearly, then, her orders to fast for three days included only part of the third day up to the time she broke her fast.
More examples could be added. But these witnesses should be sufficient to establish the norm. Counting so many days is not measuring a fixed time period. Rather it is counting daytime periods that are separated by other times periods called nights. The language does not commit us to a fixed length every time it says n days or n nights.
Every part counts
Let us now establish another norm. And that is when it says there are so many days or nights, such as n days and n nights, then there must be at least n daytime periods separated by nights, and n nightime periods separated by days. Two nights cannot be called three. There is no precedent anywhere in scripture for such an abnormality. The whole number must be included, but every numbered part need not be measured whole.
These norms are obvious if one cares to study the examples in Scripture. The Friday-Sunday apologist manages to prove Counting Less Than Whole Days is the norm, but then implies that this means every part does not need to add up to the number stated. This sort of trick is a form of equivocation, in which one thing is proved, and it is implied the other thing, which really is not the same is also proved.
A straw man is a weak man easily beaten in a fight. So desperate apologists impute a weak argument to their opposition that is easily disproved instead of dealing with the real argument. Apologists also are liable to pick out the weakest arguments of some opponents while ignoring the strong arguments of other opponents. Almost every position under the sun has been badly defended somewhere, or the right position is defended badly because it is only partly right and not wholly right. Apologists pounce on these weaknesses to dismiss everything, both right and wrong in favor of a view that is even worse than their opponent. And this is a form of straw man argument.
The Friday-Sunday apologist, therefore, chooses to make his counter attack against the 72 hour Sat afternoon/evening resurrection theory. In fact this is so common that many people think the 72 hour position is the only position in opposition to Friday-Sunday! The popularity of the Wed-Sat. evening position can in large part be explained by the fact that it is somewhat more right than Friday-Sunday on one particular text: Matthew 12:40, and the fact that this is the argument the Friday-Sunday apologist chooses to knock down. They are quite aware that a Thursday-Sunday theory exists, but they spend almost no time against this. The reason is that it has fewer weaknesses. Likewise, they spend almost no time at all attacking the Wednesday to a pre-dawn resurrection on the Sabbath. This is because addressing an early-dawn resurrection on the Sabbath would expose their straw men. And they would rather not re-invent their apologetic to deal with a better explanation. They would rather deal with the better explanation by silence and suppression.
If the Sunday Apologist truly tried to rebut what the Scripture truly teaches, then they would have to understand what the Scripture teaches in order to make an argument against it. So often they end up arguing against what some other person or group incorrectly thinks Scripture means. And this is because of one big problem: translation.
The Sunday Church, especially the fundamentalist sort, is huge on the argument that every word delivered to us in Scripture is perfectly accurate. Now while this may be true with the original texts, they seek to imply that there is little or no problem with the translations they present as Scripture. The reason they imply this is because it is THEY who made the translations, and THEY who changed certain parts of it to support their lawless doctrines, which could not survive if the Scripture were better translated.
No where is this more true than in the department of Scripture chronology. The argument over the 7th day vs. the 1st day is fundamentally chronological in terms of obvious difference. It is not just the 7th day. It is a critical dividing point. Resurrection Sabbath pulls together many separate parts of the Law and Prophets that relate to it, the Sabbatical year, the Levitical Law, the Passover, and Shavuot. Understanding it is a magnet that pulls the seeker into a sound understanding of Messiah and Torah.
Long ago, Satan decided the only way to combat the Messianic faith was to find a bunch of pagans and turn them into gnostic Christians, and then find a bunch of Jews who rejected Messiah and get them to argue with the gnostic Christians. Together they decided it was in their mutual disinterest in each other that the links between Torah and the crucifixion and resurrection should be cut as much as possible. The Gnostics made the first move, and the Rabbinical Jews said, uh, huh, good, and get as far from Torah as you can get and we will help you with a few suggestions.
The result is that the visible Church is stuck with a reformed version of the gnostic interpretations of Scripture. This is the stuff of translations like, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,” (Rom. 10:4) and “Righteousness apart from the Law” (Rom. 3:21), and “First Day of the Week,” and the translation of “Faith,” and “believe,” which they take as believe only.
It is precisely because Torah observant Messianics are still deeply divided on how to address the translational problem that the Sunday Church still argues against the straw men of its own making. The majority of Messianics hold to a anachronistic theology of Scripture preservation taught by the Churches they came from. They also hold to a legacy of false Reformation theology based on a semi-deified Luther and Calvin (a.k.a. Augustinian Theology). They seek to give an answer by interpretation when the answer is first to correct the translation and then give the interpretation minus the philosophy of the middle ages!
Therefore, historical authority must be dismissed in favor of observational norms. It is only by pointing out what norms the Scripture teaches like these counting methods that we can overcome false traditions that fail to abide by the norms established in Scripture. When the literal texts are ignored which say, “First of the Sabbaths,” for the resurrection day, then the norms are being ignored. They are being ignored just as much as Friday to Sunday ignores the three nights in Matthew 12:40, or ignores the meaning of after three days in Mark 8:31 and other texts.
If one is willing to study out the norms and eschew abnormal translations which look like excuses then one will discover other norms that have been overlooked. The results can be quite astonishing. They are not based on authority or my say so.
The Sunday Church pretends that it follows interpretive norms. They have written whole books on principles of interpretation. But then they have invented theological systems to excuse themselves from Torah. What you will discover is that while most of the time they go by the norm, at strategic points, right where it counts the most, a false teaching or idea is placed, and this causes everything to wash down the wrong side of the mountain.
The Almighty expects us to solve problems by seeking the truth. And the foundation of truth is observation norms in linguistics and science, that is knowing the language. The Spirit filled mind must know what the possibilities are in order know how the norm works in the Scripture context. It takes learning, listening, and teachers. The best teacher is self motivated observation. The second best teacher is someone who can point out overlooked observations. This is the only way to overcome misguided tradition that takes the mantle of authority.