Scripture clearly predicted in Matthew 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (cf. Jonah 1:17). But if our Lord was crucified on "Good Friday," that would not leave 72 hours (24 hrs. x 3 days and nights =72), but instead probably something more like 38 hours for our Lord to be in the tomb (Friday afternoon til midnight, 7-9 hours + Saturday 24 hrs. + four or five hours on Easter Sunday morning = 36-38 hours total. That certainly does not equal three full days and three full nights of 72 hours.
However, notice I inserted the words "full" in each case, which of course is the way a Westerner would take a statement like "three days and three nights," but Scripture did not use this expression in the same way some of us might use it. However, what we miss is the fact that "three days and three nights" was a stereotypical phrase that allowed the full day and night to be counted when any part of that time was included.
For example, 1 Samuel 30:12 has the same formula of "three days and three nights" used by the Egyptian, whom David found as he was pursuring the Amalekites, who had captured and made off with all the women, children and elderly people David had left in his temporarily adopted home of Ziklag. The Egyptian turned out to be a slave to an Amalekite, who abandoned him when he became ill "three days ago" (1 Sam 30:13). The words translated by the NIV as "three days ago," literally translated from the Hebrew read: "Today is the third [day]" (Hebrew: hayyom sheloshah). Thus, he too used the "three days and three nights" stereotype formula, but clearly he did not mean three full days and three full nights, for on that very day, it was only day three!
Therefore, in accordance with this example and several others in Scripture, a part of a day, night, or year could be counted as a full day or night or year. Likewise, Solomon's navy was gone for three years (1 Kings 10:22), but it becomes clear that any part of a year counted as one year; thus his ships left about the fall of the year, were gone all the next year and returned in the third year about Passover time.
Therefore, it is not necessary to move the crucifixion back to "Good Wednesday" or "Good Thursday" in order to account for the 72 hours.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (PhD, Brandeis University) is the Colman M. Mockler distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He has taught at Wheaton College and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Kaiser has written over 40 books, including Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching; Hard Sayings of the Old Testament; "Exodus" in the Expositor's Bible Commentary; The Messiah in the Old Testament; A History of Israel; The Promise-Plan of God; Recovering the Unity of the Bible; and coauthored An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Dr. Kaiser and his wife, Marge, currently reside at Kerith Farm in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. Dr. Kaiser’s website is www.walterckaiserjr.com.