Apologetics Faith Hebrew Roots Theology
R. L. Solberg  

The Great Easter Fraud

If you’re like me and have anti-Christian friends on social media, you’re probably seeing posts and memes these days that are making a strange claim about Easter. In my book Torahism: Are Christians Required to Keep the Law of Moses, I discuss this common yet confusing claim which is often made by Torahists (those who believe Christians should be keeping the Torah). To be honest, the point of the claim is not clear. However, it’s an issue frequently mentioned and staunchly defended by those who make it, so it’s worth examining.

The claim stems from the belief that fraud was perpetrated in AD 325 at the Council of Nicaea regarding the date on which Easter is observed. Because Scripture reveals that the Resurrection took place on a Sunday, the Council determined that Easter should always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.1 But this, claims Torahism, is a deceptive miscalculation. As proof, they point to Matthew 12, where the Pharisees and teachers of the Law asked Yeshua (Jesus) for a sign:

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

—Matthew 12:39-40

When asked for proof that He was the Messiah, Yeshua gave just one sign: He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. However, as the argument goes, if He died and was buried on Friday and rose on Sunday, as “Roman-corrupted” theology teaches, it would mean He was only in the grave for two days and two nights. Thus, our Torahist friends cry foul and argue that something doesn’t add up.

One Torahist explained how we need to view this issue from a Hebrew perspective, remembering that the Bible is an Eastern book written in an Eastern culture. “The Jewish day starts at sundown,” he explained. “So Yeshua was actually crucified on a Wednesday afternoon. That way, when Mary went to the tomb before sunrise on the first day of the week, we now have the ‘three days and three nights’ Yeshua predicted.” Several Torahist groups have gone as far as creating posters explaining this theory. For example:

Excerpt from “The Great Easter Fraud” poster designed by
Pastor Charles Dowell Jr. and illustrated by Steve Lesperance.

How do we reconcile the apparent discrepancy our Torahist friends are pointing out between the number of days Jesus predicted and the actual amount of days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Well, a little Scriptural research shows that it’s not a math issue; it’s a language issue. There are several Hebraic idioms—such as three days and three nights and after three days—that are used to refer to “the third day.” And there is ample Scriptural evidence that shows this to be true. For example:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

—Matthew 27:62-64 (emphasis mine)

Here we see the Jewish officials using the phrases after three days and until the third day synonymously, which tells us they understood them to mean the same thing. Matthew understood them to mean the same thing, as well. Elsewhere in his book, he recorded Yeshua’s predictions that He would rise from the dead “on the third day:”

  • “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” —Matt 16:21 (emphasis mine)
  • “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” —Matt 17:22-23 (emphasis mine)
  • “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” —Matt 20:18-19 (emphasis mine)

In the examples above, we see that Yeshua Himself used different phrases synonymously to describe the same length of time. If He was crucified Friday, that makes Friday the first day, Saturday the second day, and Sunday the third day. And if we take a broad survey of the New Testament, we find an overwhelming number of references to Yeshua’s resurrection occurring on the third day or in three days.2 Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the expressions three days and three nights, after three days, and on the third day are all Hebraic idioms that mean “the third day.” 

This brings us to the larger point regarding Torahism’s objection on this issue. What this argument is trying to prove or disprove is not clear to me. (And I have asked for clarity numerous times.) The “three days” problem is raised by Torahists while arguing that we should be celebrating Passover instead of Easter. But even if, for the sake of argument, we were to agree that Yeshua was crucified on Wednesday instead of Friday, it would have no bearing on whether or not Christians should celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday.


1 Joanna Gillan, The Ancient Pagan Origins of Easter, www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/ancient-pagan-origins-easter-001571.

2 Matthew 26:61, 27:40; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, 14:58, 15:29; Luke 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, 24:7, 24:21, 24:46; John 2:19-20; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4.

10 thoughts on “The Great Easter Fraud

  1. Richard Alan Nelson

    No bearing? If you actually studied the messianic dimensions of the Sabbaths and festivals, the role of the sacrificial lamb, and the promise that Jonah’s experience would be reflected in the death and resurrection of Messiah, you will see the only link to Sunday is the empty tomb because Yeshua rose at the end of Passover Saturday.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Hey Richard! Thanks, for stopping by.

      Jonah’s experience was reflected in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Did you notice the part of my article about the Jewish phrases that all refer to the same length of time? The reason I said “even if, for the sake of argument, we were to agree that Yeshua was crucified on Wednesday instead of Friday, it would have no bearing on whether or not Christians should celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday” is that all four gospels clearly indicate it happened on the first day of the week:

      • “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” (Matt 28:1)
      • “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb” (Mark 16:2)
      • On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb” (Luke 24:1)
      • “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” (John 20:1)

      I understand you are attempting to make the point that because the Jewish day begins at sunrise and John said “while it was still dark” and Mark said it was “very early,” the Resurrection happened on the Sabbath. However, there is no scriptural support for that position. And did you know that the Torah singles out Resurrection Sunday?

      Even if, for the sake of argument, I granted your point, it would not change the fact that His followers and the world learned of His resurrection on the first day of the week, and thus we celebrate His resurrection and the empty tomb on the first day of the week.

  2. Joe

    I agree with you about “on the third day” and “after three days” being idioms that are used interchangeably. Flavius Josephus is someone from that period that used the expressions interchangeably. However, three days and three nights is not an idiom and is used as an exact measurement of time.

    Another critical item to note is that the Bible in its original form does not say what day Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel accounts only tell us that the women arrived at the tomb on the first day of the week. Some translations of Mark 16:9 will say Jesus raised on Sunday, but that is an incorrect translation. It should read: “Early on the first day of the week after he had risen, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9, Christian Standard Bible). Regardless of the translation debate, Mark 16:9, as we have, it was not what the writer of Mark wrote. The earliest manuscripts are devoid of Mark 16:9-20. I’m positive that in the original form, the author of Mark had the story of the resurrection, but we do not have any record of it. 16:9-20 was added later and must not be considered when determining dogmas or historical truth.

    Since there is no written proof that Jesus was resurrected on Sunday, why celebrate Easter? Other than being the First Fruit offering to God? I cannot imagine that is more important than commemorating Jesus our Passover on the 14 day of the first Biblical month as the early Church did.

    I’m open to changing my mind but as it stands now this is how I feel: https://biblicaltidbits.com/2021/10/15/the-reason-christians-should-celebrate-passover/

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks, Joe! I’m curious. How did you come to the conclusion that “on the third day” and “after three days” are interchangeable idioms, but “three days and three nights” is an exact measurement of time?
      BTW I took part in a Passover seder last year and it was awesome!
      Rob

  3. Joe

    Hi, Rob! Good for you; I am glad that you could participate in a Passover celebration. By the way, I just bought your book “Torahism: Are Christians Required to Keep the Law of Moses?” and looking forward to reading it.

    What is exact about “three days and three nights” is that we can infer that this is time measurement. Independent of one’s perspective of a perceived starting point. In “on the third day” or “after the third day,” the prepositions on and after are ambiguous, which means that it depends on the source’s point of view. Day one could be the day the event happened, or it could be counted as day zero, with the next day being day one.

    I do not believe three days and three nights are precisely 72 hours, although it could be. I think that a day or night could include any amount of time, no matter how minuscule. However, you must have at least a part of a day, a full day, and part of another day—the same with three nights.

    I may refer to “on the third day” or “after the third day” as idioms. But, I do not feel that they should fall under that banner. They certainly are ambiguous descriptions, but I do not think they are figurative.

    Joe

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks, Joe! Your logic makes sense. But it sounds like it’s based in English grammar rules, rather than ancient Hebrew or Near East patterns of speech and communication. With your approach to counting days, how would you reconcile the following passages?

      • For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt 12:40)
      • When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Matt 17:22)
      • From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples . . . that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt 16:21)
      • “This man (Jesus) said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”

      Notice that these different expressions about the length of time are all found in the same Gospel (Matthew) and attributed to Jesus. And here’s another interesting passage from Matthew:

      “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matt 27:62-64)

      I’ve love to hear your thoughts on that!
      Shalom,
      Rob

  4. Joe

    Hi, Rob! Perhaps, in this instance, I depend too much on my English speaking point of view. However, after some research, the English words “three” and “day” do not differ from their Hebrew equivalent. Although we should be aware that a Biblical day starts at sunset, their night comes first and then daytime.

    I believe all the verses you quoted from the book of Matthew mean the same thing. The question remains what that is? Could a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection fall within the phrase “on the third day”? Are “three days and three nights” not always literally three days and nights? Could a Wednesday crucifixion and Saturday resurrection satisfy the saying “on the third day”? Upon further examination, I think the answer to all these questions might be yes.

    At this time, I cannot rule out the Friday crucifixion based on these phrases, but neither can anyone rule out a Wednesday crucifixion. However, consider the women prepared spices on a day that fell between two Sabbath days. After a Sabbath past (first day of Unleavened Bread)(Mark 16:1), with that same day falling before another Sabbath (Seventh-day) (Luke 23:56). We could feel a Wednesday crucifixion would be the better explanation over Friday. I have not yet come up with another logical explanation for when the women prepared spices. I would love to hear it if there is one.

    Happy Sabbath!

    Joe

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Good point, Joe! And I think that even more than whether the words “three” and “day” match their Hebrew equivalents, we need to ask whether the complete phrases were significant. In other words, I believe the meaning lies not at the level of individual words, but the full phrases: “after three days,” “on the third day,” etc. And I agree with you that all those phrases refer to the same period of time. But here’s my question. Why does it matter which day of the week the crucifixion happened? That’s one question I have not been able to figure out. What relevance would it have if Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday? Is this just a general desire to understand the sequence of events as accurately as possible, or is there a deeper theological significance?

      Shabbat Shalom!
      Rob

  5. Joe

    Hello, Rob! Thank you for sharing your point of view, which you do so lovingly. This discussion has been thought-provoking.

    There is no relevance to knowing which day of the week Jesus was crucified or resurrected. The writers of the Bible never mention the day of the week and would have if it was warranted. The one instance that a specific day is mentioned is in Mark 16:9, and it was added later by someone unknown. The oldest manuscripts of Mark end at 16:8. The other Gospels only say when the women arrived at the tomb, not that it was the day of the resurrection.

    Unfortunately, mainstream Christianity makes the specific days of the week very relevant. For example, creating a Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Some even observe a Lord’s Day that replaces the Sabbath.

    All four Gospels tell what is essential, not the day of the week but rather the date. That date is the fourteenth, and the occasion is Passover. All the Churches of the East and West celebrated Passover on the 14th until circa 135 AD. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis)

    I would be remiss if I did not add that my version of Passover is somewhat different from those that identify as Torah Christians. We call it Crucifixion Day in my household. Furthermore, I celebrate the Feast days, rest from work on the seventh-day (Sabbath), and refrain from eating unclean meats. I still celebrate Christmas, and it is never a sin to worship on Sunday or any other day of the week (as long as you still observe the Sabbath).

    However, I just mentioned external acts of worship that are of no use if we do not Love. We should always work on compassion, mercy, peace, patience, and kindness at the forefront.

    Another reason is that I strive to understand the Bible as accurately as possible. This is because I so desire to learn more about God. Of course, sometimes I do misunderstand the truth, but I have faith that God will eventually get me back on track if I do.

    May the Lord be with you always,
    Joe

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Beautifully stated, Joe!
      Blessings, Rob

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