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ADD TO YOUR LEARNING - The Philippine Teaching Ministry
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Translated from the French by Alastair D. Pannell and the author (Paris: Editions Seghers, n.d.)
By Rolan Monje


The book is written by a French surgeon who, after being intrigued by the piety of certain people, started studying out the Qur'an. He set out to find out the aspects of Islam which remain unknown to the vast majority of non-Muslims. In the process, he learned Arabic and took on the task of analyzing the Bible and the Qur'an in the light of Modern Science.

Thinking that this book would highlight the credibility of the Bible, I was surprised that it was not the case. On the contrary, his treatment of the Bible was quite unfair, making disparaging comments that showed bias more than anything. His writing style is direct and his approach is scholarly. However, there are several weaknesses in his book.

Strong points of the book

1. Interesting writing style. Bucaille writing style is lively and interesting. The book is not boring at all. His choice of words reflect a scholarly and creative mind.
2. Good grip of history. The author is able to clearly present the history behind the issues he is referring to. Also, he is able to do this using short, direct statements which quickly get to the core of the issues. One example of this is how he explains the growing methodologies in textual criticism.

Weak points of the book

1. Limited sources. The book uses a limited number of sources. Bucaille's references are confined to a few French commentaries, none of which are written by renowned experts in their field. Bucaille mentions Danielou, O Culmann, and Kannengiesser so much that the whole first part of the book seems to just revolve around the thoughts of these authors. Furthermore, obvious tendency to take material from a limited amount of sources shows poor scholarship.

2. Conjectural statements. Bucaille makes certain statements that appear to well-researched but are still questionable. Sometimes I think his conclusions don't really follow from the statements that are supposed to support them.

3. Sweeping generalizations. The book is filled with sweeping generalizations and catch phrases which obviously attempt to undermine Biblical authority. Some of these statements suggest that gospel authors forced their own material and biased thoughts into their writing. Some suggest that the Pentateuch was formed from a mosaic of half-truths and hearsay. At one point the book says that the Bible simply has monumental errors.

There are two issues that I'd like to discuss in order to answer the author's charges against the New Testament's credibility. (Bucaille sharply criticizes the time element of the gospels. He claims that each gospel is a loose patchwork of stories and legends with little historical value.) The first issue has to do with the Jesus' statement about his death in the gospels and the second with the His' genealogies.

Jesus in the tomb, how long?

1 This is found in pages 63-66.

2 A possible exception is De Vaux who is a professor of Old Testament History and Theology and has written volumes of work in his field.

In Matt 12:30-45, Jesus is conversing with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. In Jesus' view, this crowd represented this "evil and adulterous generation" who asked for a sign. "The sign of the prophet Jonah" denotes that Jonah is a type of Christ, and surely Jesus knew long in advance about his death, burial, and resurrection (Mt 16:21). With Jonah established the type of Christ, then question now becomes a matter of interpreting the term "three days and three nights".
The word "days" (h?meras, from the singular h?mera) and "nights" (nuktas, from nux) are the usual words for "days" and "nights" in Greek. Moderns usually regard "a day and a night" as 24 hours and so "three days and three nights" would mean a total of 72 hours. However, according to Jewish tradition, a day and a night make an onah (a day), and a part of an onah is as the whole. Thus, "three days and three nights" could also mean a series of three parts of day. This length of time would not necessarily mean 72 hours.

There are many verses that attest to the resurrection of Christ "on the third day" (Matt 16:21, 17:23; Act 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4). The doctor Luke especially wrote "to set forth in order a declaration of those things" about Christ (Lk 1:1-4). The term kathexes ("in order") shows that he valued the proper chronology of his material.

Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. [Lk 9:22, KJV]

Luke also maintains in Luke 18:33 that Jesus claimed to be raised on the third day. Luke 23:54 adds more data:

And [Joseph] took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. [Lk 23:53-54, KJV]

Jesus was taken down from the cross around sunset of the day of preparation (hemera paraskeues) and the Sabbath was coming (epephosken). This would mean that if the period of interment was only from evening of Friday to the dawn of Sunday, only one whole (24-hour) day is covered. The best way to reconcile this is to conclude that "three days and three nights" means three "portions of a day". A similar phrase is given in Joshua 1:11, where "three days" simply means "the day after tomorrow" or "in a few days" and not 72 hours. (See also Josh 2:16, 22; 3:2; 9:16.) So Jesus could not already have been buried for three whole nights and three whole days. That would have required His resurrection to be at the beginning of the fourth day.

Following the Jewish method of reckoning time, the three whole days would have been Thursday sundown to Friday sundown, Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, and Saturday sundown to Sunday. Interestingly, the Roman method would have considered three days also : Thursday midnight to Friday midnight, Friday midnight to Saturday midnight, and Saturday midnight to Sunday midnight. But only portions of these three days were considered as "days". Here is a tabulation of the three days with different methods of reckoning:

Jewish day
Roman day
Taken as 'onah' day
Days buried
Thursday 6pm to Friday 6pm Friday 12:00:00am to 11:59:59pm Friday afternoon to midnight 1
Friday 6pm to Saturday 6pm Saturday 12:00:00am to 11:59:59pm Whole day of Saturday 2
Saturday pm to Sunday 6pm Sunday 12:00:00am to 11:59:59pm Early morning of Sunday 3

3 The Greek term tou pascha (lit., "of the Passover") is taken to be equivalent to the Passover Week. This refers to the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Heb. massot) that immediately followed the initial slaughtering and eating of the Passover lamb on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month Abib, which by Hebrew reckoning would mean the commencement of the fifteenth day, right after sunset. Richards, "Passover".

4 Romans considered days as going from midnight to midnight.

Finally, this all fits in with the chronology of the resurrection week:

"Holy Week" Day
Thursday Last Supper
Betrayal and Arrest
Trial by Annas and Caiaphas
Matt 26:20-30; Mk 14:17-26; Lk 22:14-30
Matt 26:47-56; Mk 14:43-52; Lk 22:47-53
Matt 26:57-75; Mk 14:53-72; Lk 22:54-65
Friday Trial by Sanhedrin
Trial by Pilate & Herod
Matt 27:1; Mk 15:1, Lk 22:66
Matt 27:2-30; Mk 15:2-19; Lk 23:1-25
Matt 27:31-60; Mk 15:2-46; Lk 23:26-54
Saturday Burial in tomb  
Sunday Resurrection Matt 28:1-15; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-35

To summarize,

1. According to Jewish tradition, a day and a night make an onah (a day), and a part of an onah is as the whole.
2. Both Jewish and Roman reckoning agree for the whole amount of time Jesus was in the tomb.
3. "Three days and three nights" in Matt 12 means three "portions of a day", which would mean that Jesus did indeed resurrect on a Sunday morning.

Conflicting genealogies in Matthew and Luke

Why do the gospels of Matthew and Luke present different genealogies? Matthew 1 and Luke 3 give different versions of Jesus' lineage. The two differ in both content and presentation. How can this be reconciled?
Both Matthew and Luke recognize the importance of establishing a genealogy for Jesus, in accordance with the care given such matters in ancient Israel. In their handling of Jesus' genealogy, Matthew and Luke differ in several ways. The simplest way to explain this difference is to consider the reason why these accounts were written in the first place. Family history and lineage were important matters in the Near East. When placed side-by-side the gospels cater to different sorts of people and present Jesus from different angles. Matthew was addressed primarily to Jews while Luke was addressed to Gentiles. Matthew focused on Jesus' kingship while Luke focused on Jesus' humanity. With two different audiences in mind, the two genealogies had to be presented in distinct forms.

A. General observations

The Temple of Jerusalem as well as other edifices were destroyed in A.D. 70. Because of this, the gospel writers may have deemed it necessary to draw up an accurate account of Jesus' family history. Matthew and Luke ensure this for us, their future readers. Also, two distinct genealogies are needed to paint a complete picture of the Messiah.
There are more details to be noticed in these two accounts. These can now be understood in terms of the bigger picture - the two purposes for which the two gospels were given.

1. Matthew traces forward in time from Abraham to Christ while Luke traces backward in time from Christ to Adam.

The Jews considered themselves sons of Abraham and so Jesus' lineage is highlighted in Matthew. In order to show Jesus as king (from Zech 9:9), his royal line had to be established. In contrast, Luke traces Jesus' bloodline all the way back to Adam to show that he is wholly human (from Zech 12:10). Skeptics and believers alike would have to admit that Jesus was a man just like Adam and all his descendants were.

5 Note that Mark did not need a genealogy since his focus was to present Jesus as a servant or worker. John did not need one either since he presented Christ as deity.

2. From David, the line goes to Solomon according to Matthew, to Nathan according Luke.

David is an intersection of both genealogies. Both Nathan and Solomon were David's sons. Solomon is the ancestor of Joseph, who married Mary. It was necessary for Matthew to trace the line through Solomon since it was Solomon who succeeded David as king. Here the royal line is indicated. There is a catch though that I shall show later. Nathan, on the other hand was the older son of David (1 Chron 3:5). Nathan is the ancestor of Mary, Jesus' mother. The genealogy had to be traced to him because Luke wanted to show Jesus as biological descendant of David.

3. According to Matthew, Joseph's father is Jacob (Mt 1:16) but according to Luke, it is Heli (Lk 3:23).

Joseph could not have had two fathers. In a genealogy a child could be listed under his natural or his legal father. This concept goes back to the Levitical provision for preserving a married man's name (Dt 25:5-6). Here, the widow of a childless man could marry the husband's brother only so that a male child of the second marriage could be considered (legally) as the son of the deceased. This provision was created in order to perpetuate the name of the deceased. Since this rule was generally followed in Jewish communities up to the time of Christ, it is probable that Jacob and Heli were physical brothers and that one of them married and died early, leaving the widow (Joseph's mother) with the other brother. I can also see another possible scenario: Jacob and Heli were brothers-in-law, one of them being married to Joseph's mother and dying early.

4. Matthew puts a pattern into his account whereas Luke simply lists his.

Matthew groups his genealogies in fourteens. By custom, Jewish writers would create certain patterns in their writing, usually for artistic or mnemonic reasons. Note that Jewish practice did not require that all names be written. At times, only the most prominent son was written. At other times, generations were skipped in order to highlight a particular generation or to put form to the presentation.

B. Prophetic considerations

As mentioned earlier, the two family histories of Jesus are needed to establish him as Messiah. Since Jesus was to be the fulfillment of a complex system of prophecies, each one of those prophecies had to be fulfilled. Two of the most important prophecies have to do with David's ancestry and the restriction on Joseph's lineage.

1. The Messiah was to be the actual son of David according to the flesh. (Ps 89:3-4)

The same fact is carried in 2 Sam 7:12-19, Ps 132:11, and other verses. Interestingly, this detail is also followed by the apostles who were well versed in the Old Testament (Ac 2:30, 13:22-23; Ro 1:3; 2 Ti 2:8)

2. The Messiah could not come from the cursed line of Jehoichin (Jer 22:28-30).

In Jer 22:28-30 we are told that a descendant of Jehoiachin (son of Jehoiakim) could not acsend David's throne. This was because of Jehoiachin's wickedness. It is unfortunate that his line would have to suffer this curse. Joseph the carpenter was of this line.

In order for both prophecies to be fulfilled, God took the time to lay out Jesus' family history in two ways. Joseph's lineage provided the royal line for Jesus, since he is a descendant of Solomon, David's son. This is value of Matthew's account. Notwithstanding, in order to circumvent the curse in Jeremiah 22, it had to be shown that Jesus was Jesus was not of the seed of Jehoiachin. This is where Luke's account holds value. Had Jesus been the biological son of Joseph, the Jews would have pointed to the writings of Jeremiah to disqualify Jesus. Jesus is Joseph's son only in the eyes of the law. In his genes, Jesus is Mary's child through Mary's bloodline via Nathan.

Two important points of intersection are worth noting: (1) The generation of David, since Solomon and Nathan were both his sons. (2) The generation of Joseph, since his marriage to Mary was the means for legalizing Jesus' ascension to the throne. In the NT, both these points of intersection are dealt with in amazing detail.

To summarize,

1. God recorded the genealogies in Matthew and Luke for documented proof that Jesus Christ is the promised, virgin-born, Messiah; and, rightful heir to the throne of David as King of Kings.

2. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew traces Jesus' line to David and to Abraham. This coincides with the fact that Matthew's gospel stresses Jesus claiming kingship.

3. The genealogy of Jesus in Luke traces Jesus' line to Adam. This coincides with the fact that Luke's gospel stresses Jesus embracing humanity.

4. Two lines are needed to trace the ancestry of Jesus, one royal and the other legal. Jesus is indeed the Messiah. His blood rights came through Mary and His legal rights through Joseph.

The two genealogies do not contradict each other but strengthen evidence for the Messiahship of Christ. These confirm the accuracy of the Bible even to smallest details and should build our faith in God's sovereignty.

Overall, the book challenged my thinking since Bucaille's approach was critical from the very first page. Indeed, reading the book was practical training on refuting the claims of a critic. At times the arguments were circular, but at times they made a lot of sense. I had to separate wheat from chaff and come up with what the author was really trying to say. I believe that somehow, I was able to employ some of the approaches in John Oakes' book to marshal lines of reasoning against such criticisms.


© 2004-2008 Rolan Monje. All Rights Reserved.