Biblical Exposition

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”
(Matt. 12:38-40)

Skeptics claim to have discovered an error in the New Testament —claiming Jesus was not in the tomb for three full 24-hour periods like he prophesied.

He was buried Friday afternoon and rose early Sunday morning.That seems to be only one full day and two nights.

Has the skeptic found an error in the Bible? How does one respond?

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”
(Matt. 12:38?40)

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Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

It is clear that Jesus rejects the call to perform various signs before the Jewish leaders in order to justify his claims and actions. Jesus would not give them signs, however, for he did not come primarily to be a wonder-worker but a Savior. His miracles were performed to display his power and identity and out of mercy to help the poor and sick.

Jesus performed many miracles in private and with a warning not to tell others about them. Yet, one great miracle would be given as a definitive sign. This would be the “sign of Jonah,” his resurrection from the “heart of the earth.”

The main problem encountered in Matthew 12:38-40 involves the temporal designation “three days and three nights.” Interpreting this designation literally, some try to solve the “problem” by arguing that Jesus was really crucified on Thursday rather than Friday. A Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection do not provide sufficient time for three days and three nights.

Authentic Ancient Tomb in Israel

There are numerous ways of figuring out the day-night scheme for this period of time, but it is clear that three separate days and nights cannot be obtained by a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme. Yet, it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath” (Mark 15:42) and raised on Sunday, the “first day of the week” (Mark 16:2). If the temporal designation of Matthew 12:40 is taken literally, a conflict does exist between the time indicated in this verse and the time indicated in the accounts of the passion story.

But should the expression “three days and three nights” be interpreted literally? Three arguments indicate that it should not.

First, it appears that this expression is another way of stating “on the third day” or “in three days.” This can be illustrated from 1 Samuel 30:12-13. The same Greek expression is found in 1 Samuel 30:12 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as in Matthew 12:40.

Verse 13 refers to this three-day and three-night period as “three days ago” or, as the LXX literally states, “the third day today.” If “three days and three nights” can mean “on the third day,” there is no major problem in our passage.

By Jewish reckoning Jesus could have been crucified on Friday and raised on Sunday, the third day. Friday afternoon = day one; Friday 6 PM to Saturday 6 PM = day two; Saturday 6 PM to Sunday 6 PM = day three.’

A second argument against a literal temporal interpretation is the fact that Matthew did not see any conflict between this expression and either a third-day resurrection (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19) or a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme (Matt. 27:62; 28:1). For him, as well as for the other Evangelists, expressions such as “three days and three nights,” “after three days,” and “on the third day” could be used interchangeably.

Holy Sepulchre, actual location of crucifixion and burial of Jesus

Finally, it should be pointed out that the main point of Jesus’ analogy in Matthew 12:40 does not involve the temporal designation but the sign of the resurrection. Only one miracle or sign will be given to this evil and adulterous generation. That sign will be Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The temporal designation is much less significant. Perhaps Jesus refers to three days and three nights because this expression is found in the Old Testament passage which he wants to quote (Jonah 1:17).

Understood in the context of biblical Judaism—and knowing the idioms and figures of speech in the designation “three days and three nights”—there is no problem with the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme described in the passion narratives. Any Jew or Roman would have immediately understood; only those divorced from the historical context fail to understand.

It is only if a twentieth-century reckoning of time is imposed or if the idiomatic nature of this temporal designation is not understood in its context that a problem appears.

See also Dave Armstrong’s article “3 Days & Nights” in the Tomb: Contradiction?

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Passover Lamb: A True Story

by JesseRay on April 12, 2019

  1. Contributed by my son Jesse Ray a while ago but worthy of reposting…

I arrived on the scene with my gun and stoically loaded in some self-defense rounds (although I was clearly not in danger). I did not lavish the idea of slaughtering a lamb, but my friend and new-farmer, Pat, called and sheepishly asked for some help. I guess he thought I was qualified since I had butchered last year’s deer with the help of my family.

It took a while for me to prepare the surroundings, I had never killed something so large, at such close range. During these few minutes I had time think about the gravity of what was about to happen.

Of course my mind took me back to the Jews and passover. Remember, the Bible is not just filled with stories, but with accounts of historical events. These events that we are familiar with actually happened. The Word of God prescribed, no dictated, the killing of a lamb. For the Jews, the lamb was not just dinner. The blood of the lamb was spread on the horizontal and vertical wood of the door frames (of course we recognize this as a foreshadowing of Christ’s blood dripping from His wooden cross).

Samaritan-Passover,-slain-lamb,-tb041106729-bibleplaces

(Picture: Present day slaughter of Passover Lamb by Samaritans in Israel) 

Exodus 12:21-22
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.

We all know that the consequence of sin is death, yet today we do not always see or feel that direct connection. Before Jesus, the Lamb of God, came as our final sacrifice, a cute, woolly lamb <baaa>, had to die in expiation for sins. The Jews symbolically placed their own sins on the head of the lamb before it was killed in Leviticus 1. The male sheep was chosen from the flock for its spotlessness, just as Christ, sinless and perfect, died for our sins.

We Catholics are blessed with the sacrament of confession, a very quick and clean way of cleansing sins from our soul. Well, let me tell you there was nothing quick or clean about killing a lamb. If we had to go through this every time we sinned I would expect people would either sin less, or would carry more sins around on their hearts.

Passover (doorpost)I tell the following story, not for the sake of gore, but because it was a very raw and spiritual experience. You should stop here if the thought of blood makes you queasy.

I was compelled to pause, and say a prayer thanking God for this animal and for the gift of it’s life. At first it all happened quite fast: The the gun popped, a red spot appeared on the lambs head, the lamb dropped. I was glad that was over with.

What happened next surprised me. All living things try to avoid death, and even after the lethal blow, the lamb was not going to die without a fight. I apologize, for the detail, but far more blood than I expected began pouring out of the sheep’s mouth and nose. The famous painting “Adoration of the Lamb” by van Eyck flashed in my brain, (of course in the painting the sheep is standing, but the flow of blood is clearly key in the comparison).

My friend Pat, the instigator of this whole event, took action (and large knife) holding the sheep down with the full weight of his body and slit the throat. As more blood emerged it was clear that the bloody descriptions in the old testament will never be void of imagery for me anymore.

PETA people refuse to eat lamb chops or wear sheepskin because of (I assume) the violence of slaughter. (or maybe they just need some cause to distract them from the evils of abortion and euthanasia that many support). Before any scriptural lessons, I think seeing that this tasty protein-source doesn’t start out in a Styrofoam package at Meijers is good to know.

But seriously, what kind of a “merciful” God would order His people to do something so violent and base? The answer points to the Eucharist, and is so deep that we need to understand God’s plan of salvation is exposed in history and recorded in scripture. Now we just need to know where to look.

Adoration of the Lamb_van_Eyck_insetMy dad, Steve Ray, teaches about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and its Biblical foundations; he can speak for hours about the beauty and reality in his talk entitled Defending the Eucharist: You are What You Eat. The whole talk can be found here, and is really a great listen.

I pray that you will all draw closer to our Lord and find joy in His Cross and Resurrection.

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If you do not subscribe to The Catholic Thing, I suggest you do. Every day a short article about theology, the world, the family, politics, the Church. Such a wide swath of conservative, biblical and Catholic thought. It helps clear the head each day. Thanks to James Matthew Wilson for this delightful article “Go Figure!

This article expresses the way I’ve learned to read and study the Bible. People often ask me how I discovered typology and the ability to see the New Testament in the Old; and the Old in the New. This article opens a crack in the door to the stunning world of biblical study and enjoyment as the Church in earlier centuries knew by instinct but unfortunately lost in the last few centuries.
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Go Figure
James Matthew Wilson

SATURDAY, APRIL 6, 2019

The great upheavals of religious and theological knowledge over the last two centuries began with the question of how to read Scripture. The new science of geology seemed to call into question a literal reading of Genesis, which seemed to date the earth as about 6,000 years old. Then, along came the historical-critical endeavors of the German Higher Criticism, and the books of the Bible fell to pieces – thousands of them, fragments by various hands drawn together over centuries, so that Holy Scripture seemed to be a patch job and less than the sum of its parts.

download (1)How could you determine a meaning when every book was a weave of earlier, perhaps conflicting intentions? How could you trust what was given, if the book did not seem to be providing reliable historical data by which to pin down places and dates?

To readers of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, that last question seemed far from silly. Divinity exams from that period – I’ve seen them – include questions such as, “What was the date of Noah’s flood?”

But to those of us who have read T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, it seems odd indeed. The poem consists of 432 lines, of which at least 100 are full or partial quotations from various sources. That does not stop us from discovering coherent meaning in the poem; to the contrary, the poem gains in depth and significance by Eliot’s deliberate inclusion of other voices. If Eliot could do it, so can God.

Jewish and, later, Christian interpretations of Scripture have traditionally and consistently been “figural” or spiritual. By that was meant that, yes, every work has its literal sense, meaning in some cases, a historical event occurring, and in every case, the meaning intended by the author writing. But, every work also has its spiritual sense, a figural meaning that likely is not intended by the author, but which can be discerned within the author’s words and is generally of far greater significance.

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 10.04.56 AMOnly in this way does Scripture become prophetic and revelatory, teaching us something we could not have learned for ourselves, and calling us to sudden conversion. Only in this way can we read the Old Testament as pointing to Christ as its fulfillment. And conversely, only in this way can we read Christ Himself as the lens through which to interpret the words of the Old Testament and the book of nature.

We can hardly understand either Testament without the spiritual sense, for the most cursory reading of any passage reveals an economy of language made possible only by a density of meaning: if you are not willing to unpack each sentence like a steamer trunk, then you are not ready to read.

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 10.06.54 AMTwo of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century spent their careers trying to help the Church recover this way of reading Scripture – and, no less, of reading the world. Henri de Lubac’s four-volume Medieval Exegesis is concerned with describing the practice of figural interpretation as it had historically been practiced. It can seem a bit odd to read what you might call a historical-critical defense of figural interpretation; what de Lubac mostly did was outline a brief but elegant theory and then multiply quotations from the Church Fathers until it became clear that his theory was theirs.

Hans Urs von Balthasar was a bit more sanguine and ambitious than de Lubac. He too could multiply quotations, but he also just went ahead and interpreted Scripture – and the rest of history – in spiritual terms. De Lubac wanted to restore interpretive authority to the Fathers of the Church; von Balthasar wrote like a Father.

This has not stopped the Church from remaining concerned that many believe that historical criticism is the only “scientific” way to read Scripture and that, to modern man, figural interpretation just looks arbitrary or silly.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades reading and writing about figural exegesis, and actually practicing it. But all thought of theory flees when I consider just two moments from the last several years.

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 10.08.48 AMOne summer, I decided to read St. Augustine’s The City of God, often called the great saint’s masterpiece, and it surely must be if you judge by sheer length. For most readers, it will be of uneven interest compared with his Confessions, which – to me – is the singularly perfect book of our tradition outside Scripture.

I find much to admire in City and much that changed me, but mostly in a scholarly sense. I am impressed by how Augustine developed or refuted some aspect of classical thought on his way to showing us the truth about things.

But, late in the book, indeed during a long stretch that would tempt most readers to abandon ship, Augustine describes Noah’s Ark. He patiently describes the dimensions of the Ark, the position of the door in its side. And then he shows us that it is proportionate, at great scale, to Christ’s own body, whose own side would pour out water and blood from its pierced doorway.

Christ is our Ark, carrying us through the rough seas of a world flooded by sin. To read this was not an occasion of thoughtful approval, but joy; not reflection, but conversion. “Yes,” I thought, “that is my Lord and my Christ!”

A few years ago, I was reading my children The New Catholic Picture Bible, a wonderful adaptation. We came to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham receives his command from God to sacrifice his son. Isaac himself carries the wood up the hill that, unbeknownst to him, is intended to become the pyre of his own immolation. An angel intervenes to spare Abraham this great test of his fidelity, and the text explains:

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 10.15.41 AMIsaac carrying the wood up the mountain is a picture of Jesus who carried His cross up the hill to Calvary, to offer himself for the sins of the world. Although God saved Abraham’s son, for love of us He did not save his own Son from death.

Yes, yes, yes! Isaac anticipates Christ; the son bearing wood is a prophecy, a type, of the Son bearing the Cross. I felt myself draw nearer to God and enter into his mystery even as the kids sat there in my lap.

A couple of months later, I was recommending that Bible to another father with young children, and I mentioned this figural interpretation. He immediately replied, “How is it that anyone doubts that Jesus is Lord?”

That’s how figural exegesis works; it doesn’t take us back to a particular historical moment. It allows God to reach out and grab us by the lapels – and shake us into faith.

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Walk the Road to Calvary with Steve Ray this Lent – New Talk

March 27, 2019

Wisdom from Steve Ray’s Stations of the Cross “If you want to know about Jesus and the Crucifixion, you not only read the four Gospels, but you go back in history, and you study the land, and you study the culture at the time. And it fleshes it all out, and black and white becomes a […]

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Freedom for Catholics to Interpret the Bible

March 20, 2019

The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete / Interpreter DECEMBER 2, 2017 BY DAVE ARMSTRONG Bible Passages that the Church has Definitively Interpreted Contrary to the bogus claims of some anti-Catholic Protestant polemicists I have run across, Catholics are not at all obliged to read the New American Bible translation (nor the revised English Vulgate, such […]

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Temple Sizes Compared – bigger than a football field

March 18, 2019

Since we are at the Western Wall today, seeing all this with our own eyes, I thought I would share again this blog about the size of temples of Israel. The 1) Tabernacle in the wilderness, the 2) Temple of Solomon, 3) Herod’s Temple at the time of Christ and 4) Ezekiel’s Temple are compared. The […]

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Did God Die on the Cross? How Can God Die?

March 1, 2019

Almost every day I get questions. I always try to answer, even if briefly. Today I received a question from Raymund in the Philippines. He is part of a apologetics group and they got very hung up on whether God died on the cross. Here is his e-mail: Greetings Mr. Stephen:  I am a great follower […]

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Feast of Chair of St. Peter: “Chair of Moses, Chair of Peter” Steve’s Article, YouTube Video and Resources

February 22, 2019

St. Cyprian of Carthage (beheaded 257 AD) one hundred and fifty years before the New Testament writings were collected into one book called “The Bible”: “The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will […]

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Baptist at the door, “Are you born again?” Prepare yourself to answer them!

February 21, 2019

Grilled salmon sizzled on his plate as Andy and his family sat down for dinner. No sooner had they crossed themselves to bless the food than the doorbell rang. Andrew dragged himself to answer the door while his family began eating. Two smiling faces peered in the door. “Good evening, we hope we’re not interrupting […]

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Did Jesus Ascend into Heaven from Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12) or from Bethany (Luke 24:50)?

February 19, 2019

Since we are on the Mount of Olives today I thought I would address a common concern. One of our past pilgrims wrote to me expressing an apparent contradiction in the Bible about what I had said in Israel. The wording in the two verses below is what caused the confusion. Acts 1:12  “[After the Ascension] they […]

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Explaining Catholic View of Covenants with a Dispensational Baptist

February 18, 2019

A Baptist antagonist claimed he had the proper view of God’s plan of salvation – working through dispensations. I explained to him the more substantial, biblical and Catholic concept of covenants. I think you will enjoy the chart which makes salvation history easy to visualize and comprehend. ********************************************** Hello Jerry: It was good talking with […]

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Is Faith Alone the Basis for the Final Judgment?

February 16, 2019

Dear Jerry: I had no intention of writing you again this soon but after having dinner with your brother the other day and picking up a copy of a booklet you gave him entitled Studies In Contrasts: The Doctrine of Salvation (by Herb Vander Lugt and published by the Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, MI.), […]

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Hundreds of my Audio and Visual Presentations & Radio Shows

February 15, 2019

Some have asked me how to access my talks and radio shows. First, you can search YouTube with “Steve Ray” and there are scores of them for free. We also have a webpage with links to hundreds of past talks, radio interviews, etc. Hope you find them helpful to build and support your Faith in […]

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Pastor Bob “Preaches the Word” (Discussing A Sermon on Baptism)

February 13, 2019

Pastor Bob Preaches The Word (or does he?) By Steve Ray Josh left Sunday services full of excitement, anxious to discuss Pastor Bob’s sermon with his sister Jennifer who had recently converted to the Catholic Church. The pastor had explained how salvation was by “faith alone” and not by rituals and works. He was anxious […]

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Cross vs. Crucifix

February 11, 2019

(A letter Steve wrote to an Evangelical friend asking for an explanation of the Crucifix) Dear Protestant Friend: You display a bare cross in your homes; we display the cross and the crucifix. What is the difference and why? The cross is an upright post with a crossbeam in the shape of a “T”. A […]

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A MUST READ: Cardinal Müller issues Manifesto: A quasi correction of Pope Francis’ pontificate

February 9, 2019

“February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) (News also released by Catholic News Agency) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, has released a Manifesto which reads like a correction of many of the doctrinal errors Pope Francis has taught during his tenure as Pope…. …Pope Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his post as […]

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