Atheist's Attacks

Answering Humanist's Accusations Against the Bible

Christian Resources

The Bible and Supposed False Prophecy

What About New Testament Prophecies?

THE HUMANIST'S CLAIMS: Jesus also erred in predicting the amount of time he would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40 he teaches: “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.” Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on a Friday afternoon. But Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us he left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Either way, the amount of time was less than three nights.

This is one of the more difficult of the supposed failed prophecies in the Bible. Not because it is actually a contradiction, but because of cultural differences that affect how we think about time. Our Euro-American culture is very linear and precise when it comes to time. However, if you've traveled you can't help but notice that, even today, time has different levels of importance in other parts of the world and not everybody thinks about time the same way.

What Was A Day?

For Jews in Jerusalem, a day began at sunset. So each day was 24 hours, beginning at sunset.

How Were Days Counted?

Days were counted as 1, 2, 3... etc. BUT... as we do today, they used idioms when talking about periods of time... and were much more liberal in accounting for time than we are today.

If you drive to a National Park and start a hike on Friday afternoon, then hike all day Saturday, and finish your hike and return to your car on Sunday morning, what is that called? A three day hike. You don't need to hike for all 24 hours of all three days for it to be called a three day hike.

Motels charge by the night. If you arrive at your hotel at 5:30 PM, and check out at 3:15 PM the next day, how many nights do you get charged for? You stayed less than 24 hours, but you left after the 11:00 AM checkout time. So you will be charged for two nights.

Are these contradictions? No. It's just that our normal language can be somewhat "loose" when talking about time. But, we understand what is being said based on the context. And it was the same in Jesus' day... except that time was less important than it is in our American culture today, so they were somewhat looser in their language of time.

For example, saying "three days and three nights" was a common idiom similar to the present-day example of a three day hike.

Here are some examples from scripture provided by Apologetics Press:

When Queen Esther was about to risk her life by going before the king uninvited, she instructed her fellow Jews to follow her example by not eating “for three days, night or day” (Esther 4:16). The text goes on to tell us that Esther went in unto the king “on the third day”

When Israel asked King Rehoboam to lighten their burdens, he wanted time to contemplate their request, so he instructed Jeroboam and the people of Israel to return “after three days” (2 Chronicles 10:5, emp. added). Verse 12, however, indicates that Jeroboam and the people of Israel came to Rehoboam “on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, ‘ Come back to me the third day’”). Fascinating, is it not, that even though Rehoboam instructed his people to return “after three days,” they understood this to mean “on the third day.”

Jonah In The Belly of the Big Fish

To wrap up, what would have had to have happened to Jonah if we take "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly;" (KJV) strictly and literally... when did Jonah enter the whale's belly and when did he leave? (Assuming at new day starts at sunset, 6:00 PM.) Jonah would have had to enter the whale's belly at exactly 6:00 PM to start the night of the first 24 hour day. He would then have to leave the whale's belly at exactly 5:59:59 PM 72 hours later. If he entered and left the whale's belly at any other time, he'd have been there for a partial day/night. And then we could not say he was in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it. That's not how we normally speak. If a man was swallowed by a giant fish on sometime Friday afternoon, and came out at noon Sunday morning... the news would correctly report, "Man Spends Three Days In The Belly of A Giant Fish!"


The Bible was written using the ordinary way people spoke at the time. There is no error here.

Next Prophecy:

Another significant false prophecy is at John 14:13-14. Jesus promises: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Everyone knows there have been millions of instances where Jesus failed to respond to Christians who asked for things in his name. And the graveyards are full of people who prayed to him for health.

As is the case with other incorrect statements in the Bible, false prophecies cast doubt on all biblical claims. If one verse in the Bible is wrong, it’s possible for many verses to be wrong.

What did Jesus actually mean when He said this? Should we take the time to find out? Click here...


For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes.


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