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The Only Sign Given

Using Church and Rabbinic Tradition To Interpret Jesus' Words

The well-known, widely respected Bible scholar and commentator, William Barclay, writes the following concerning the saying of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 12,

"Matthew says that the sign is that, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. It is to be noted that these are not the words of Jesus, but the explanation of Matthew."1

If you have not read many critical commentaries on the Bible, this is a very common practice among many scholars - to tell us what is and what isn't the real words of Jesus. I guess they use their secret decoder rings to figure that one out. Now we have to ask, "What is he basing this determination upon?" I will let him answer this question. He continues,

"The fact is that Matthew understood wrongly the point of what Jesus said; and in so doing he made a strange mistake, for Jesus was not in the heart of the earth for three nights, but only for two. He was laid in the earth on the night of the Good Friday and rose on the morning of the first Easter Sunday."2

Mr. Barclay says it is a FACT that Matthew made a strange mistake by misunderstanding Jesus. What is he basing this assumption on?

He is basing his conclusion that Matthew made a mistake, on the fact that it does not line up with church tradition. He is placing the assumptions of church tradition above that of Scripture. This is a very sad and dangerous thing to do. The Words of Jesus should carry more weight of authority than our own traditions or theological musings.

How many other "strange mistakes" could there be in the Scriptures? If Matthew made a mistake and misunderstood Jesus, then so could Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James and Paul. Every word in the Bible is now up for debate as to its trustworthiness. The validity of its words are now judged by how well they fit our own traditions. Tradition is fine, as long as it doesn't negate the very words of God, which sadly in many respects, it does.

With the stoke of a pen, Mr. Barclay, as well as others, have placed the entire body of Holy Scripture in the shadows of doubt and uncertainty.

We are no better than the scribes and pharisees that fought Jesus tooth and nail, at every turn. We are no better than those who plotted his death because "we've piped and you've not danced." What Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, he would say to us,

"Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye."

The Onah

Another problem, is the fanatical mantra repeated ad nauseum, when someone points out that Friday evening to Sunday morning is not three days and three nights. That mantra is, "the Jews counted any part of a day as a whole day."

Apart from using Church tradition to interpret the words of Jesus, we also now must rely upon rabbinic tradition. This argument that the Jews counted any part of a day as a whole day, doesn't come from the Word of God, but from the traditions of the elders, i.e., the oral traditions of the pharisaic rabbis. This new way of counting part of a day as the whole day, the rabbis called the Onah.

There are so many problems with the Friday evening to Sunday morning theory, not the least of which is the denial of Jesus' own words. If you were to remove this one supporting argument of relying upon the principle of the onah, the whole theory of the Friday to Sunday collapses like a house of cards. The Friday to Sunday theory cannot exist without it.

laughing rabbiThe rabbis are laughing at us. We boast that we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, however, we must use the words of the Talmud to interpret it. In case you didn't know, the Talmud is the most holy book of the Jewish religion, filled with filth and blasphemies concerning our Lord. It is the traditions of the elders expanded and in written form. It is this same tradition of the elders which Jesus said nullifies the Word of God, which it certainly does in this case. By relying upon rabbinic tradition to interpret the plain words of Jesus, we are stating that their words are more important and inspired than the words of Jesus. Hence, we really don't believe that Jesus is the Anointed One of God, at least not if we need to interpret His words by the words of those who Paul called "enemies of the cross."

If you would like to investigate this Only Sign Given further, I would encourage you to visit my site dedicated to this topic, www.3daysandnights.com.


1 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew, The New Daily Study Bible, (n.p., Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 58
2 ibid.