What is Inclusive Reckoning?

The common mode of counting employed in the Bible is shown to have been inclusive reckoning, that is, counting both the first and the last unit of time in calculating an interval. This method was also used generally by other ancient nations, as is shown unmistakably by source documents. An Egyptian inscription recording the death of a priestess on the 4th day of the 12th month relates that her successor arrived on the 15th, “when 12 days had elapsed.” Today, we would say that when 12 days had elapsed after the 4th, the date would be the 16th. The Greeks followed the same inclusive method. They called the Olympiad, or the four-year period between the Olympic Games, a pentaeteris (five-year period), and used other similar numerical terms. The Romans also, in common usage, reckoned inclusively; they had nundinae (from nonus, ninth), or market days, every ninth day, inclusive, actually every eight days, as indicated on ancient calendars by the letters, A through H.

Of course mathematicians and astronomers were aware that the reckoning was mathematically inexact, but it persisted in common parlance, as it has even down to the present day in the Orient. Modern vestiges in the West are the phrase “eight days,” meaning a week in some European languages; the Catholic term “octave” of a festival, meaning the day coming one week after the holy day; the musical intervals, such as octave, third, fifth, etc.; and even the medical term “tertian fever,” meaning a fever recurring every other day.

The clearest Biblical demonstration of inclusive counting is in the New Testament (see Acts 10:30 where a period of 72 hours is reckoned as “four days ago,” not “three”), but an Old Testament example is in 2 Kings 18:9-10. The siege of Samaria lasted from the fourth to the sixth year of Hezekiah, which is equated with the seventh to the ninth year of Hoshea, and yet the city is said to have been taken “at the end of three years.” In modern usage we would say two years, by straight subtraction. Obviously the Bible writer reckoned inclusively (years four, five, and six totaling three years).

A Hebrew boy was circumcised when “eight days old” (Genesis 17:12), that is, “in the eighth day” (Levites 12:3). Similarly Luke speaks of circumcision “on the eighth day” or “when eight days were accomplished” (Luke 1:59; 2:21). Evidently “when eight days were accomplished” (or “at the end of eight days,” RSV) does not mean eight full days from the date of birth, but eight inclusive.

Jeroboam II of Israel succeeded his father Jehoash in the 15th year of Amaziah of Judah (2 Kings 14:23), and Amaziah “lived after the death of Jehoash … of Israel fifteen years” (2 Kings 14:17). A modern reader would mentally add 15 to 15, reaching Amaziah’s 30th year, yet Amaziah reigned only 29 years (verse 2). Inclusive reckoning is again the most logical explanation, since 15 years, inclusive, from the 15th year is the 29th, in which he evidently died.

There are other examples. When, at the death of Solomon, Rehoboam was petitioned to lighten the tax burden, he told the people to depart “for three days” (1 Kings 12:5) and then return for his decision “after three days” (2 Chronicles 10:5). They came “the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day” (1 Kings 12:12; cf. 2 Chronicles 10:12). Esther asked the Jews of Shushan to fast, and by implication, to pray, for her before she went in to the king unbidden, and then she approached the king “on the third day” (Esther 4:16; 5:1). Obviously a period of “three days” ended on the third day, not after the completion of the three days, as we would reckon it.

All this serves to explain the supposed difficulty in the three days between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The texts are as follows:

Book In three days After three days The third day
Matthew 26:61; 27:40 27:63 (12:40 & 3 nights) 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64
Mark 14:58 (within) 8:31 9:31; 10:34
Luke     9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46
John 2:19-21    

It is obvious from these texts that “in three days,” “after three days,” and even “three days and three nights” are all equivalent to “on the third day.” One writer (Matthew) uses all three phrases for the same period. The interval from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is three days, by inclusive reckoning. Since it is clear that this mode of counting was the common practice in Bible times, and widespread in many countries, it is useless to try to understand this period as three full 24-hour days, according to the modern Western habit of counting. To do so violates both historical usage and Biblical statement, and creates a difficulty that would not exist if the ordinary usage of common speech and of examples in the Bible be taken into account.

The only way to harmonize Matthew 12:40 with other scripture as seen in the above table is to understand it in the light of inclusive reckoning of time. Inclusive reckoning was taken for granted by all the writers of the Scriptures and they wrote in harmony with the common literacy used those days, and that usage recognized inclusive reckoning of time. This means that any part of a day was counted as a whole day. The Jewish Encyclopaedia states. “A short time in the morning of the seventh day is counted as the seventh day; circumcision takes place on the eighth day, even though, of the first day only a few minutes after the birth of the child, these being counted as one day.” Vol. 4, p. 475. Scores of contradictions would appear in both Old and New Testament if this principle were ignored. We must compare Scripture with Scripture and use the idiom of the language in which the Bible was written and not our own thoughts and ideas.

Three Days and Three Nights - Page 5.