On the Eclipse and the Bible

Darkness at CrucifixionSo the “American Eclipse” has come and gone and we all like sheep ran to the best observation post we could get to in our area, with our special designer frames and our expectation of awe and now we can say to future generations, “I was there when …”

Some are excited. Some are disappointed. Some are wondering what it all might mean. Some are pleased but slightly miffed that all the build-up, and all the expense, and all the traffic was for 2-minute, 34-second “totality”.

Really? NPR spent nearly the whole week talking about the eclipse and it was over in less time than a pop song?

Seriously, it was a spectacular 2.34 seconds though. 

There was a lot of great information about not only this eclipse but historic eclipses all around the globe almost everywhere you turned in the week leading up to the event. Network and cable news, radio, newspapers, Facebook, it didn’t matter if you wanted to learn about solar eclipses or not, by golly, you were going to LEARN something about eclipses. And some of it was fascinating. But there was also an awful lot of misinformation out there about the eclipse as well.

Take for example NPR’s story two days before the eclipse. ( I have tried to find it but drew a blank and will have to report from memory.)

The broadcast included an expert on eclipses in history and he was truly fascinating in both his knowledge and enthusiasm for eclipses. Did you know that an eclipse was useful in proving Einstein’s theory of relativity? It also included a British guy who had some good questions and of course the person doing the interview. 

Eventually, somebody, I think the interviewer, asked a question about the Bible and eclipses.

“Here we go,” I thought. “What kind of misinterpretation and nonsense are we going to hear now?”

The next 3-4 minutes of the show were filled with three people speaking with sophisticated authority about the Bible and eclipses, specifically, eclipses as they relate to the crucifixion of Christ. Unfortunately, almost every word was wrong, historically inaccurate, based on a superficial reading of the text and filled with unexplained and faulty assumptions.

I’ll get to what I mean in a moment, but here is a warning. When listening to ANYONE, remember, just because they sound intelligent and educated does not mean that they know what they are talking about.

First, let’s lay out a number of facts.

  • Most scholars date the Crucifixion to April 3, A.D. 33.
  • Most scholars today date the writing of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to somewhere between A.D. 54 and A.D. 70. Some date either Mark or Matthew as early as A.D. 40!
  • Almost all scholarship that dates the synoptic gospels later than this range is about 50-70 years out of date. The current consensus on when the gospels were written, by both believing and unbelieving scholars is early.

[Sources: (Redating the New Testament, John A.T. Robinson; Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke, John Wenham; The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, F.F. Bruce; History and Christianity, John Warwick Montgomery; Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell; The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel; Testing Christianities Truth Claims, Gordon Lewis) is a good start.] 

So, the interviewer asked something like this, “How about the Bible, are there any eclipses in the Bible?” Mr. Eclipse Expert says something like, “Yes and no. The Bible doesn’t quite get it right. Interestingly enough, there is a mention of an eclipse in the Bible’s account of the crucifixion of Christ. We know that there was a lunar eclipse on April 3, A.D. 33. But of course, the crucifixion of Christ took place during the day so a lunar eclipse doesn’t quite work.” 

Then the British guy pipes up (Doesn’t everything sound more plausible with a good British accent?).

“Well, we know that there was a solar eclipse in November A.D. 29 which is close to the time of the crucifixion. Perhaps the biblical writers conflated the two events because they were writing 70-80 years after the crucifixion?”

All I could do was shake my head as I listened in my car to three intelligent people grossly misinform their audience about what the Bible actually says.

What does the Bible say?

Matthew 27:45        “Now from the sixth-hour darkness fell upon all the land until the
                                     ninth hour.”

Mark 15:33               “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until
                                     the ninth hour.”

Luke 23:44                “It was about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land
                                     until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of
                                     the curtain was torn in two.”

A few more facts:

  • The people from Jesus’s time (and well before) knew how to predict eclipses. They were not stupid and much was known about the predictable patterns of planets and stars.
  • None of the gospel accounts mention an eclipse, with the possible exception of Luke who simply says the sun was obscured but not by how or what.
  • No eclipse in recorded history from China, Egypt, or Europe then or now by either the sun or the moon (solar or lunar) has ever been recorded to last 3 hours! The American eclipse remember was 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
  • If an eclipse lasted three hours, cataclysmic things would happen to the oceans of the earth.

Now, I realize that some may say, “Well, I think the Bible writers got it wrong. It either didn’t happen at all or they conflated the A.D. 29 account of a November solar eclipse with the A.D. 33 knowledge of a lunar eclipse and added it to the story of the crucifixion for dramatic effect.”

People choose to believe all kinds of things for which they have only their own speculation and prejudices but let’s be fair about what the Bible actually says.

And what it says, is that for a period of time, three hours, commencing with the raising of Christ on a Roman instrument of torture and death until Christ died at 3 PM the sun’s light was obscured. No eclipse can do that.

But God can.

You can always look for naturalistic explanations for Biblical phenomena. Indeed, it is our western bent to always look for naturalistic explanations. Usually, this serves us well. But the Bible consistently claims to be a book that talks about and reveals a supernatural God who intervenes in the affairs of men. For three hours on Good Friday, the God of the universe signaled the importance of what was transpiring at Calvary as the Savior hung between heaven and earth on a Roman cross.

The right conclusion to draw is the one recorded in Matthew 27:54:

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Yes, He was. He is.

And He continues to offer forgiveness to all who repent and believe.


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