Teaching & Suggestions

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

by Steve Ray on April 10, 2020

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:

JosephOfArimathea-5c2e4559c9e77c0001904cf9Greetings Mr. Stephen: 

I am a great follower of yours and I’m from the Philippines. I’ve got a couple of questions here that bother me a lot.

1) Did GOD THE SON died literally on the cross? or 2) Did only the HUMAN NATURE OF GOD THE SON  die on the cross?

I hope you can enlighten me on this matter.

My first response was brief, an attempt to get Raymund to think through it himself. I do this sometimes because some people prefer to just ask a question without giving it any thought or doing the research themselves. I wrote:

Let me ask you a question because it’s better for you to think through this on your own than for me to give you a pat answer. When you die, what dies? You are going to die and get buried in the ground, but are you dead?

Raymund wrote back:

You are putting more cobwebs in my brain….anyway, thanks. It has been an issue for us here (a little group of Catholics Faith Defenders, I’m new in this group). We were browsing the web found no definite answer. This issue has divided us.

  one of us says that GOD literally died on the cross for us to be saved.  AND THAT IS A MYSTERY OF OUR GOD IN CHRIST JESUS..

  the other is saying that it cannot be since GOD cannot die.  Jesus our Lord is both God and man.  What died? Some say IT IS A HERESY TO SAY THAT GOD DIED ON THE CROSS LITERALLY. For me, the latter seems a logical point of view.  GOD IS SPIRIT, ETERNAL, NO BEGINNING, AND NO END, therefore, cannot die. What died on the cross?

To sum it all, I’m sad for our group and at the same time, I’m confused.

So I responded further to Raymund and his group of Catholic Faith Defenders:

The reason I asked you about “when you die, what dies?” Is because it should help you think about what death is. Death is “separation.” It is the separation of the body from the soul. The soul goes to heaven or hell and the body is buried in the ground. Death does not mean annihilation, it means separation. When you die, you cease from your earthly existence, but you are still alive in your soul.

Jesus had two natures (human and divine) but he was only one “person.” He is a divine person (not a human person). He is God who has taken on human nature and therefore he is God and a man.

harrowingofhellJust like you, when this divine person of Jesus died on the cross it was a real death. But he was not annihilated or altogether dead. His body was buried in the tomb but he was soul and person was alive just like you will be alive in your soul when you die.

While his body lay in the tomb we are told that he ” he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18–19). He was still alive though his body was in the tomb. The person does not die, the body does and earthly existence ceases.

Catechism 630  “During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason, the dead Christ’s body “saw no corruption” (Acts 13:37).

Catechism 626  “Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen,” the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death: “By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.”

So, Jesus taking on human flesh died just like we all die. But the divine person of Christ did not end or cease to exist. Jesus’ spirit/soul never stopped living just like your spirit/soul will still live after your body and soul are separated in death. Remember, death means separation, not annihilation.

I concluded with a bit of advice: Raymund, When you have questions like this I suggest you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the best theology book, the best commentary on Scripture and a superb guide for your spiritual life. It is easy to read and you can find answers to questions like this.

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Why Are We Catholic?

by Steve Ray on March 30, 2020

This excellent little summary was prepared by the Faith Formation ministry in Escanaba Michigan and sent to me by Mike Cousineau. Enjoy and be challenged and edified. Sent it to a friend who needs to read it.

1.  St. Cyprian of Carthage, martyr & Bishop, wrote in 249 AD, “He who would have God as his Father must have the Church as his Mother.”

2.  Without the Catholic Church, there is no salvation.  All Protestant Christians, whether they believe it or not, are Christians because the Catholic Church exists.  Jesus prayed what is called the High Priestly Prayer in John, Chapter 17, when He said, “I pray that they are one Father, just as you and I are one.”  In the simplest terms, all Protestant Christians are wayward Catholics.  This statement would infuriate most Protestants.  That does not make this objective fact any less true.  We all have believed something, thinking it is true, only to find we have been misinformed.  Such is the case for every Protestant believer who thinks their denomination speaks nothing but truth.

3.  What happened?  Christian unity, as Jesus would have it, has fallen a long way from when the 12 Apostles were given the charge of going out to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To be clear about how difficult unity is to achieve, the Catholic Church has had many of its members disagree with certain doctrines of the Church.  The unity problem has always been real, which is always the reason for calling Church Councils, thus making many declarations of faith, known as Church Dogmas.  Dogma is a fancy word for a set of principles laid down by an authority that is incontrovertibly true.  There are 255 infallibly declared dogmas of the Catholic Church.

4.  How long did it take for a difference of opinion to filter into the newly formed Christian way of life?  We know from scripture it happened and it happened too often, resulting in the need for written instruction given to the Church by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said to His disciples, “teach them all that I have taught you.”  Yet, as we know, people don’t like submitting to someone else.  Most people prefer to “be in charge” and that form of pride has resulted in differences of opinion, many times resulting in severe spiritual disagreements.

5.  Knowing spiritual disagreements would enter the Church, Jesus put a plan in place.  The plan included a hierarchy, with Peter in charge, as he was the Apostle given the keys to the kingdom.  Whatever the Church bound on earth was bound in heaven, whatever the Church loosed on earth was loosed in heaven.  Peter was the rock on which the Church was built.  Further, Jesus said He would be with the Church always & the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.  It should be noted, given the nature of man, it seems God could have come up with a better plan, but he did it this way through men, but with the promise that the Holy Spirit would be active and protect the Church.

6.  Did Jesus really want and expect the Church to remain as one, with disagreements settled through church authority? …

For all 20 reasons we are Catholic, click HERE for the full document.

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More and more Catholics identifying as “born-again”

March 13, 2020

This is an unsettling development in the American Catholic Church. However, we had it coming. With priestly scandals, weak-kneed bishops, liberal and leftist theology and politics — what are serious Catholics to do? The answer is to hunker down, pray and work for revival, but many are looking to the conservative, experiential, emotionally-satisfying Evangelical churches […]

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Was Jesus Nice?

January 7, 2020

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me. “That was not very Christ-like.” This response usually comes after being honest to the point of making someone upset.  The implication is that Jesus was a cuddly little nice guy who was always smiling, always accepting with kind words – in […]

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Lots of my Talks, Books and DVDs on Sale and in Bundles

December 11, 2019

Check out my store for lots of sales and bundles and free shipping. I have added 11 new talks never before available. All 11 can be purchased as a bundle for discounted rates. Visit SteveRaysStore.com. A special deal on all my Footprints of God DVDs with included Study Guides.

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Was He Ready to Die?

October 19, 2019

It was just a normal morning — alarm clock, shower, espresso, dress and a saunter down the sidewalk to work. For Paul, it was another day with a whole lifetime ahead of him. But today was different. Someone else got up this morning too. They had their coffee dressed and jumped in the car. They […]

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Who Are the Poor I’m Supposed to Care For?

October 13, 2019

As we leave our rented apartment in Rome and walk towards St. Peter’s Square I notice a ragged, filthy woman sitting on a piece of cardboard with a baby laying lethargically in her arms. She looks up with mournful eyes and pathetically mumbles something as she reaches out hoping I’ll put coins in her hand. […]

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Was Abraham Saved by Faith Alone? Are the Protestants Right?

August 25, 2019

Today (Monday) I will be on the radio with Gary Michuta at 1 PM at https://virginmostpowerfulradio.org/. Hope you can listen in. Our topic will be Abraham, Father of Faith & Works. I am looking forward to this live show. In honor of this event today I am posting this article on Abraham, a critique I made of […]

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Vine, Branches & Fire: Where Will You End up?

August 24, 2019

One has to take time to care for their land and awhile ago I was cutting wild vines out of the trees and thought of the words of Jesus in John 15:5–6, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much […]

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Bias in Bible Translations

August 22, 2019

Translating Holy Scripture is a necessary process by which the sacred text is provided in various languages, usually rendered from the original languages. Not all translations are created equal. Some result from one scholar’s work, others the work of a committee of scholars. Some are literal while others tend toward paraphrase. Translation resembles a sliding […]

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Evangelism Antennas: A Fun Story of One Woman’s Day and the New Evangelism :-)

August 6, 2019

A while ago I gave a talk in Ann Arbor Michigan. It was about the New Evangelization. As part of my talk I explained how Janet and I have our “evangelism antennas” up first thing in the morning – alertly watching for open doors and ways to share our Catholic Faith throughout the day. And […]

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Sympathy for Cradle Catholics Who Can’t Explain or Defend the Faith

July 5, 2019

I thought of a helpful illustration to explain why “cradle Catholics” are often unable to explain and defend the Catholic faith. The example has its weaknesses, but it does help get the point across. As an American I asked myself this question: if some one trained to attack America intellectually approached me on the street […]

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Corpus Christi Sunday: Multiplication of Loaves a Miracle or Just a Lesson in Sharing?

June 23, 2019

When confronted with this at Mass a while ago I wrote a letter to the priest which became an article in Catholic Answers Magazine. Article HERE. The priest said there was no miracle when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. All he did was teach selfish people to share and they pulled extra loaves and fish from […]

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Does one have to experience strong emotion to be a real Christian?

June 5, 2019

I received a few e-mails from a gentleman and his wife, obviously both good and excited Catholics who had recently had a real encounter with Jesus that had revived their faith and filled them with joy and emotion. Brian and his wife were disturbed that I talked so much about the Catholic Church when the […]

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How We REALLY Got the Bible – the Facts Simply Presented (print this out, hand it out)

May 16, 2019

This is just one page of Bob Sullivan’s excellent little tri-fold handout to explain how we got the Bible. It is from the Catholic and historical perspective without all the Protestant biases and twisting of history. I think you enjoy the whole thing which you can see here. You can print this out, fold it […]

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