3days and 3 night only a "Figure of Speech"?
"I must first establish that “three days and three nights” is a figure of speech which cannot possibly be interpreted as a literal 72 hours – or even as 61."
Answer: The famous “part of a day theory” is used by some to prove that Jesus died on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. They say this was “part of three days and three nights.” They say “this is the way Jews observed time.” They get this from the Babylonian Talmud. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, tenth in the descent from Ezra was very specific: “A day and a night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it” [J.Talmud, Shabbath 9.3 and b.Talmud, Pesahim 4a].
Now Jesus didn’t say however, “As Esther fasted.” Or “As the Talmud says.” Or “As Rehoboam commanded the people.” No! He said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The Example was with Jonah, not the others! This is the example we must turn to for the sign that Jesus gave us. Jonah said, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17).
The Bible is not to be understood and interpreted by Jewish Rabbis or practices. Jesus himself condemns this as the commandments of men and not God, surely Jesus would not follow this kind of reasoning. The Bible interprets itself and is written so a young child can understand the plain statements that are not symbolic or prophetic. It is written so a child does not have to wonder whether "three days and three nights" really means two nights and one day - whether it means 72 hours or 36 hours or 32 or maybe 39 hours.
Scholars have attempted to argue this plain statement away by claiming Jesus spoke in a “Hebrew idiom” which meant only a part of a day. There is such an idiom in the Hebrew, which can include any part of three days. However, when used in conjunction with the expression “three nights” it totally precludes idiomatic expression, and is to be taken quite literally!
As Bullinger says, “The fact that ‘three days’ is used by Hebrew idiom for any part of three days and three nights is not disputed; because that was the common way of reckoning, just as it was when used of years. Three or any number of years was used inclusively of any part of those years was used inclusively of any part of those years, as may be seen in the reckoning of the reigns of any of the kings of Israel or Judah.
“But, when the number of ‘nights’ is stated as well as the number of ‘days,’ then the expression ceases to be an idiom, and becomes a literal statement of fact.
“Moreover, as the Hebrew day began at sunset the day was reckoned from one sunset to another, the ‘twelve hours in the day’ (John11:9) being reckoned from sunrise, and the twelve hours of the night from sunset. An evening-morning was thus used for a whole day of twenty-four hours, as in the first chapter of Genesis. Hence the expression ‘a night and a day’ in 2 Corinth 11:25 denotes a complete day (Gr. nuchthemeron ).” (Appendix 144).
Roland de Vaux, a French historian and archeologist who worked for many years in Jerusalem and Paris, says the same thing and explained Jewish day-counting: “When they wanted to indicate the whole length of a day of twenty-four hours, they said ‘day and night’ or some such Phrase” (Ancient Israel-Its Life and institution, p.181). This saying, without the use of “onah,” is the common Jewish way for expressing three full days.
But there is also something that these scholars do not tell you. The very definition of “onah” states that the expression, ‘a day and a night’ means ‘24 hours! Mr. Alfieri explains, “Commentators vigorously assert their opinion that ‘three days and three nights’ must only be understood as a figure of speech in both Hebrew and Greek with surprisingly few facts. The NIV Study Bible, in a note on Matt. 12:40, succinctly summarizes the entire argument: ‘Including at least part of the first day and part of the third day, a common Jewish reckoning of the time’ (emphasis mine). That is all the proof that is given to the general reader, rarely will you see an alternative point of view discussed saying Matt. 12 could also be viewed as three full days. Neither will you learn details of the Jewish mourning process nor how three full days figure in that custom…The Hebrew explanation for Matt. 12 by Christian commentators seems to start in the 1600’s with John Lightfoot. Since that time, a body of various and sundry secondary arguments has been developed to bolster this main interpretation…
“…John Lightfoot was a Cambridge scholar who wrote a commentary on the New Testament strictly from ancient Jewish texts. A Good Friday defender, he cited a rabbinical rule for gauging time in the Hebrew language to prove his case. It involved parts of a day, twelve hours or less, that the Jews call an ‘onah.’ According to the Rabbis both the full 24-hour day and any small fraction of a few hours or less, are sometimes called ‘onah.’ Under certain circumstances in Hebrew speech, the day or the fraction are spoken of in identical terms, as if they both were the same amount of time, when in fact they are not. The question becomes, when is it appropriate to use such plastic phrasing and was it the original Hebrew or Greek of ‘three days and three nights’? If you read Lightfoot you will see just as with the moderns, he starts with the assumption Good Friday and 36 hours are true.- He then infers that ‘three days and three nights’ must be explained by making the first and third days only parts of a day. He never pursues the other side of the argument, discovering the intent or the original words in Jonah, based upon Jewish usage and culture.
“Lightfoot quotes four Rabbis to explain the word ‘onah,’ he quotes none to explain the words in Jonah. Each Rabbi has a slightly different opinion on how to apply the idea of ‘onah’ to real life. Some Rabbis taught a complete ‘onah’ was 12 hours long, being either day or night. The opinion that prevailed was ‘an onah is a day and a night,’ (a full 24 hours). The ‘portion’ idea was always present. Now notice something. The very definition of ‘onah’ states that the expression, ‘a day and a night’ means ‘24 hours;’ when you see the words, think 24 hours. So by the same definition, when we see ‘three days and three nights’ shouldn’t we think 72 hours? It would appear that part of the very definition of ‘onah’ PROVES Jesus meant 72 hours in Matt. 12:40. This is not something the commentators admit. Perhaps I am simply misguided? ...Confused?
“As we saw, the English-speaking scholars claim is that this is a routine, indiscriminate use of the Jewish language. The only problem is the literal words ‘three days and three nights’ cannot be treated in this fashion at all because they are the untouchable definition of 72 hours. You cannot take the full day definition of ‘onah’ and then modify it with the ‘fractional day’ definition of ‘onah’ to wind up with ‘day and night’ meaning part of a day. This is exactly what the English speaking commentators have done since John Lightfoot, in order to reconcile Good Friday with Matt. 12:40. They appeal to this argument even though Jonah literally says ‘three days and three nights’ and Jonah’s language is very unusual Hebrew. You will find some of the more recent commentaries admitting that Jonah 1:17 truly is a full three days (See Jack Season’s book, Jonah for the Anchor Bible Series)…
“In truth, Lightfoot and his heirs have concocted a broad brush misapplication of the ‘onah’ concept, forcing this rule onto a perfectly clear phrase that does not and cannot use it. As they strive to prove that Jonah and Matthew say ‘three days,’ but actually mean 36 hours, they never seem to explain how an exact 72 hours is expressed in Hebrew or Greek; they do not reflect upon the full definition, as we just did. Everything in their discussions becomes implied ‘fractions of three days,’ nothing in the Hebrew of Jonah or Greek of Matthew describes a full day when we listen to their explanations. The Good Friday apologists say this ambiguity is there in Jonah and other Old Testament verses-, but it is not” (Darkness at the Crucifixion, pp. 156-158, emphasis added).