According to the humanist Joseph C. Sommer:
Jesus also erred in predicting the amount of time he would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40 he teaches: “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.” Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on a Friday afternoon. But Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us he left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Either way, the amount of time was less than three nights.
But Russell Grigg refuted this type of simplistic interpretation, over 20 years ago:
The ancient Hebrews idiomatically counted a part of a day as a whole day, so that ‘three days and three nights’ could have been as short as 38 hours. This explains how Jesus could say that the time He would be in the tomb (from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning) was similar to the ‘three days and three nights’ of Jonah’s experience (Matthew 12:40).
It is interesting to note that in Mark 8:31 Jesus is recorded as saying, ‘The Son of Man will rise again after three days’, while in Matthew 16:21 He says, ‘He will be raised again on the third day.’ Jesus thus used the two time frames interchangeably, and there is no error or contradiction concerning the time Jesus was in the tomb compared with the time Jonah was in the fish, as sceptics have claimed.
My two cents
And to think that humanists are critical of “biblical literalism” (a loaded term). Here, it’s the humanists who are more literalist than the literalists they criticise!
It’s one thing for humanists to bemoan Christians who lack scientific literacy—but humanists need to look in the mirror, and recognise their biblical illiteracy.
I think there’s a website that indexes creationist claims about scientific data—and I imagine that humanists would endorse that site.
But one of these days, I should set up an index of humanist claims about Biblical interpretation—and the times they get it wrong. Maybe this post can comprise the first entry.
- Sommer, J.C. (n.d.) Some Reasons Why Humanists Reject The Bible. American Humanist Association. Available https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/reasons-humanists-reject-bible/. Last accessed 19th May 2017.
- Grigg, R. (1995). Jonah and the Great Fish. Creation Ministries International. Available http://creation.com/jonah-and-the-great-fish. Last accessed 19th May 2017.