We approach the Bible with American eyes and therefore completely miss or misunderstand so much of it. It is an old Middle Eastern book. To really understand it, we must try to understand their culture, theology, language, and thinking.
A good translation is just the first step in understanding the Bible. Figures of speech that are second-nature to native speakers—but often bizarre to others—are especially difficult. When these are further clouded by differences in customs, grasping the original meaning can be very difficult.
What most of us fail to realize is that we do not think the same way the writers of the Bible thought. The logic we find so easy and familiar did not yet exist when most of the Bible was written. Without considering those differences, we try to impose on Hebrew word-pictures our Greek logic patterns. Sometimes it works, and at other times the results are disastrous. No wonder we have loud conflict and seething separation within the church today, in direct violation of Jesus’ prayer for unity within his body.
This book is the result of years of answering questions from students and friends. It can be understood by anyone who can read a newspaper. The Bible is the record of God’s intervention in human affairs, and where he draws a lost and hurting world to himself. Despite the critics’ shrill cries, the Bible can be understood.
Many are confused by this statement of Jesus:
” For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:40 NIV)
We naturally understand this statement from our Greek point of view. To us it means all day Friday, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. That is three days, and in our culture each day starts at midnight!
Then we turn to the crucifixion account and see Jesus dying on Friday afternoon, being buried all day Saturday, and risen on Sunday morning. From our point of view that is just a bit over one day! And it clearly says “days and nights”.
What we do not understand is the Hebrew way of counting days. E. W. Bullinger says:
”the fact is that the idiom covers any part of ‘three days and three nights’”6.
So, from the Hebrew point of view, Jesus began burial on Friday before sundown (therefore includes the whole day Friday), remained buried Saturday, and rose from death during Sunday which began at the prior sundown (this again includes the whole day) – three days. This is an idiom; it cannot be interpreted literally!
Clarence Whetstone was born in Maryland and reared in parsonages in Pennsylvania. His formal education spanned Houghton College, Franklin and Marshall University, Mansfield University, Drew University Seminary, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Pittsburgh.
He started training for the ministry and was a student pastor for three years. After one year of seminary he changed direction. He taught English for three years, then changed course again. He found his niche for service in speech/language pathology.
His passion has always been to make clear the message of the Bible. He has been a speaker/teacher in over one hundred different settings in central Pennsylvania. Across the years many Sunday school and small group participants added to his list of questions about the Bible.