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:
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
The Jewish officials used the phrases “after three days” and “until the third day” synonymously; they understood them to mean the same thing. Yeshua understood them that way, as well. Consider the various ways He worded His predications about rising.
- As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (Matthew 17:22-23, See also Matthew 16:21, 20:18-19)
- Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19-21)
- And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus used four different phrases to describe the same length of time: “three days and three nights,” “on the third day,” “in three days,” and “after three days.” A broader survey of the New Testament reveals a wealth of references to Yeshua’s resurrection occurring “on the third day” and “in three days.”2 How are we to explain these discrepancies? Were the New Testament writers confused? Was Jesus continually changing His mind? Surely not!
In modern English these phrases indicate different lengths of time. But in first-century Hebrew categories, they were idioms that could be used interchangeably to refer to the same amount of time. And interestingly, of all the phrases Jesus used, the one our Torah-keeping friends hang their hat on—“three days and three nights”—is the only one He used just once. And He chose that phrase because, in that instance, he was quoting directly from the Tanakh: “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17b).
If Torahism wants to press for a literal interpretation of “three days and three nights,” which is only found in Matthew 12:40, they have their work cut out for them. Because in eighteen other verses, Jesus referred to His time in the grave using phrases that, if taken literally, contradict Matthew 12:40.3 Which brings us back to the original question: what is the point of this Torah-keeping claim?
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.
3 Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:61, 27:40, 27:63; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, 14:58, 15:29; Luke 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, 24:7, 24:46; John 2:19-20.