Archive for March, 2016
Mormon scholar Jeffrey Chadwick has a new article in Meridian Magazine in which he explains why he thinks Jesus died on a Thursday rather than a Friday. I won’t attempt a thorough point-by-point rebuttal here but do want to offer some brief comments.
Mark is very clear on the chronology: Jesus died on “the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42), and the women went to the tomb “when the Sabbath was past…very early on the first day of the week” (16:1-2). Here “the Sabbath” must be what we call Saturday, and therefore Jesus died the day before Saturday, i.e., Friday. Chadwick’s explanation that the term “sabbath” could apply to other festival days doesn’t circumvent its usage in context in Mark, where it is explicitly the usual last day of the week in Mark 16:1.
Chadwick repeats some dubious arguments that a minority of non-LDS Christian scholars have made for a Thursday crucifixion. For example, “the third day” almost certainly should be understood to count inclusively; hence what we call Sunday would be the third day from Friday counting inclusively. The “three days and three nights” saying (Matt. 12:39-40) may seem difficult to square with a Friday crucifixion, but it has been shown that this is a Jewish idiomatic way of speaking and is not meant to be taken literally to mean a (roughly) 72-hour period. It can’t be taken literally even on a Thursday crucifixion view, since Jesus died just a few hours before sunset (Chadwick says around 3 pm, which is the usual understanding).
Chadwick’s agenda is really to square the day of Christ’s death with the Book of Mormon, and that’s understandable. However, there are some stubborn facts that make this almost impossible. Since Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Jesus must have been born in 5 BC (and 6 BC is possible). We know this because Luke reports that Jesus’ family stayed in the Jerusalem area for over a month (cf. Luke 2:21-22) and Matthew’s account indicates that they had lived in a house in Bethlehem for a period of time after Jesus’ birth (which was not in a house according to Luke 2:7, 12) and before Herod learned about the child king (Matt. 2:11). Herod’s order to kill Bethlehem boys two years and under (Matt. 2:16) also indicates that the child was perhaps a year old, again requiring a birth in early 5 BC if not 6 BC. This means one cannot square even a date of AD 30 for Jesus’ death with the Book of Mormon’s statements indicating that Jesus lived for 33 years (since if Jesus was born in early 5 BC and died in spring AD 30, he lived for 34 years. Besides, AD 33 is probably the correct date of Jesus’ death, which means Jesus was about 37 years old when he died.
Harold Hoehner’s book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) is still the best book on the subject in my opinion. He has a more recent study but it is probably less accessible to those who are not scholars: “The Chronology of Jesus,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 3:2315-60. On AD 33 as the date of Christ’s death, see also Paul L. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion,” Church History 37 (1968): 3-13; Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43 (1992): 331-51. It should be noted that all of these scholars were working on the chronological issues without the Book of Mormon being on their radar. That is, they were in no sense trying to refute the Book of Mormon.