The Bible Perspective (revised 10/09/2012) - HIGH DAY SABBATHS - HOLY CONVOCATIONS -

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QUESTION

What are high day Sabbaths?

John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (because that Sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.


INTRODUCTION

The problem which was the reason for the question

THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS

Jesus said he would be in the tomb three days and three nights, emphasising it by using the phrase "three days and three nights" twice:"

Matthew 12:40 "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."

Now whichever way we look at it, the Lord Jesus was saying he would be three days and three nights in the tomb. Not only three days but also three nights. The problem of trying to reconcile the human tradition of remembering the death of the Lord on a Friday is that there is no way one can count three nights from Friday afternoon to Sunday Morning, not even if one follows the Hebrew custom of counting an incomplete night as a whole night. However there is no problem if we accept that he died during Thursday daytime. Counting part Thursday as one day, together with Friday and Saturday as two more days adds up to three days by Hebrew reckoning. The night of Thursday to Friday together with the night of Friday to Saturday is two nights. Counting part of the night of Saturday to Sunday as another night brings the total to three nights by Hebrew reckoning.


ANSWER

A HIGH DAY

John explains that there was urgency in removing the bodies from the crosses because the next day was a “high day”. What is meant by a “high day”?

The Greek word translated "high" or "great" is found in John 7:37 and John 19:31 both of which refer to the more important days of the Hebrew feasts. For example the last day of a feast would be designated a great day”.

John 7:37  In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

[The word in italics ["day"] is added by the translators to complete the sense in English].

The word "great" in the Greek text is megalh [megalay] which is from megaV [megas] which means "great" be it either in size or in importance.

John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (because that Sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

The phrase "a high day" is megalh h hmera which is better translated "the great day" because h [hay] is the definite article - "the"

A HOLY CONVOCATION

In the Old Testament the regular weekly Sabbath was called "a holy convocation"

Leviticus 23:3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, a holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.

The days referred to as "great days" in John's Gospel are also called "holy convocations". because these were also observed as Sabbaths. Hebrew months were lunar, tied to the phases of the moon and the Hebrew year had 360 days Leviticus 23:21 And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be a holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.

Leviticus 23:24 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.

Leviticus 23:27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

Leviticus 23:34 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.

Leviticus 23:36 Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein. {solemn…:Heb. day of restraint}

Numbers 28:26 Also in the day of the firstfruits, when ye bring a new meat offering unto the LORD, after your weeks be out, ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work:

Numbers 29:1 And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you.

Numbers 29:7 And ye shall have on the tenth day of this seventh month a holy convocation; and ye shall afflict your souls: ye shall not do any work therein:

Numbers 29:12Numbers 29:12 And on the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days:

There were "holy convocations" observed as Sabbaths, at the beginning and end of the Passover week. [See the chart on the Simply Christians CD]

Exodus 12:16 And in the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.

Leviticus 23:6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. 7 In the first day ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.: 8 But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.

Numbers 28:17 And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. 18 In the first day shall be a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work therein:

Numbers 28:25 And on the seventh day ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work.

So, as explained above, the Hebrew months being lunar and their regular year having 354 days WHICH WEEKDAY?

Secular history does not help us to determine the precise year when the Lord was crucified. So the only way we can decide which day of the week was the 15th. of the month of the Abib is from the Biblical evidence:

  1. Lord's claim that he was three days and three nights in the tomb
  2. He rose early on the first day of the week which would be after sunset Saturday before daybreak Sunday.

From these two facts, those not having preconceived ideas would automatically conclude that He must have died on the Thursday,. So Friday is ruled out.

We should bear in mind that Biblical evidence is reliable. Human tradition is not. Credence must be given to Biblical evidence rather than human tradition.

Recognising that the Lord died on a Thursday would raise the question in the minds of those not familiar with Hebrew culture: "How could the next day (Friday) be a Sabbath since the regular Sabbath is Saturday?" I understand that it is for their benefit that John explains that the Sabbath following the crucifixion was a special Sabbath, a "high day" Sabbath, in that way distinguishing it from the regular Sabbath. BACK  

NOTES:
  1. Every so often an extra month occured keeping the festivities in line with the time of the barley harvest.
  2. Some might wonder why the synoptic gospels did not emphasise that it was a high day. Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote soon after the event when the readers would be familiar with this Hebrew custom. John was written much later when explanation would be needed for folk less familiar with Hebrew custom.
  3. Below is an extract from the article on the Simple Christianity CD entitled "The Lord's Passion and His Resurrection."
THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS ?

Ignoring human tradition, does the Bible require us to believe that the Lord was crucified on a Friday?

The synoptic gospels do state that the Jews wanted the bodies removed from the crosses because after sunset it would be a Sabbath. They would want that to be done before any Sabbath, whether for the regular weekly Sabbath or for one of the several Hebrew festival "convocations" which would occur on different days of the week each year. On these days no servile work was allowed. These Sabbaths were known as High Days, alternatively translated Great Days (John 7:37). There was always a High Day on the 15th. day.

John explains that the Sabbath following the Lord's crucifixion was a "High Day". There would be no need for his explanation if that year the 15th. day was on a Saturday, that is on a regular weekly Sabbath. However it would make sense for John to stress that it was a High Day Sabbath if it fell on a Friday. In which case the Lord would have been crucified on a Thursday.

If the Lord was crucified on a Thursday afternoon then there are 3 days counting part of Thursday and the whole of Friday and of Saturday. Also there are three nights counting Thursday Night, Friday night and part of Saturday night.


A. Ashurst  June 2005/September 2012
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