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The First Day and the Resurrection of Christ

Initially, I was asked:

How could the early Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week if he was to be in the grave three days and three nights?


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My response  was, "To put it simply, the most likely reason that the early Christians believed that Jesus rose on Sunday was because he did."

I was then told:

It doesn't seem appropriate for a historian to state such a thing. This is just a statement justifying your belief.

Well, it's nice to be called a historian! (I don't think of myself that way, but I guess it's true.) I'm just an amateur historian, which limits my time, but I'm very careful not to simply justify my belief. On this site, I explain everything I present, and I give you readily available sources that you can check for yourself.

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Obviously, though, this writer needed something more from me. Here's that something more:

My comment about the resurrection being on the first day is exactly what a historian must say. One can't reason from later interpretations of "three days and three nights" when it goes against unanimous and abundant testimony that Jesus rose on Sunday. Every mention of the crucifixion and resurrection in the early Christian writings that gives a time says Friday for his crucifixion and Sunday for his resurrection (well, "first day").

If this was only one comment, then maybe it would be inappropriate to defend a first day resurrection, but when it's repeated and unanimous, then a historian must say that the most likely reason for early Christian belief is that Jesus rose on Sunday.

Some references for you:

  • The Letter of Barnabas says in ch. 15 that Jesus rose on the 8th day, which he gives as a reason for "keeping" that day with joyfulness in contrast to the Jewish Sabbath. Keep in mind that he does not say we should not keep the Sabbath. Instead, he says the proper way to sanctify a day is with "pure hands and a pure heart," and he suggests that every day should be kept this way. The 8th day, however, is not a day of rest, but a day of joyfulness, due to the resurrection of Christ.
  • Justin says Jesus rose on the first day in First Apology 67. In Dialogue with Trypho 41 he says so again, and he mentions that it's called the 8th day as well.
  • The testimony of the whole church to the resurrection on Sunday is added due to the Quartodeciman controversy. The Roman bishop (not yet a pope) wanted all churches to celebrate Passover on the Sunday nearest Nisan 14. Irenaeus says it was the practice of all western churches to do so. That was due to the resurrection being understood as having happened on the 1st day. The eastern churches rejected this practice, but they did not do so by disagreeing that Jesus rose on Sunday. That would surely have come up had they believed Jesus rose on the Sabbath day. Thus, by A.D. 120, we can know that all Christian churches believed Jesus rose on Sunday. Some would say they had fallen away, but there is no evidence for that because there is not one suggestion by anyone that Jesus rose on any day other than the 1st day of the week from that time period or before.
  • Then there's the testimony of Ignatius, who was from one of those eastern churches that kept the Passover on Nisan 14. Despite this, he says Christians of his day are "no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord's day." This was around A.D. 110, and it's stated by a person appointed  to his position by the apostle John. That doesn't specifically say "first day," but it is contrasted with the Sabbath.

The testimony is significant, and it is one-sided. It is for that reason that it is appropriate to say that the reason they said he rose on Sunday is because he almost certainly did, whether or not we understand the "three days and three nights" statement of Scripture.

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