Six or Eight Days?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
After Jesus prophesied during His earthly ministry that some would live to see the establishment of God’s kingdom, the first two books of the New Testament indicate six days expired before Peter, James, and John were led up on a high mountain to witness the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 16:28-17:2; Mark 9:1-2). Luke’s account, on the other hand, says that Jesus’ transfiguration occurred “about eight days after” Jesus prophesied of the approaching kingdom’s establishment (9:27-29). Skeptics charge that this difference in the time elapsed between the two events constitutes an obvious error. They profess that such textual differences should lead the honest person to admit that the Bible contains contradictions, and thus is not the inerrant Word of God.
Admittedly, at first glance it may seem to the casual reader that Luke’s time line contradicts Matthew and Mark’s account of the time that elapsed between Jesus’ prophecy and His transfiguration. However, a closer examination reveals that Luke never intended for his readers to understand that exactly 192 hours (i.e., eight 24-hour days) elapsed from the moment Jesus finished His prophecy to the time He and the others began their ascent to the “ mount of transfiguration.” Luke recorded that it was “about eight days,” not that it was eight days exactly. Although Luke was a physician (cf. Colossians 4:14), he did not use “scientific precision” in this case. Rather, he merely approximated the time separating the two events.
Furthermore, it seems clear that whereas Matthew and Mark excluded the days of the two terminal events (the prophecy and the transfiguration), Luke included both days, as well as the six intermediate days, and thus mentioned that the two events were eight days apart. Even today when people rehearse something they witnessed a few days earlier, they may refer to the events as happening on “different” days. For example, if a store was robbed on a Monday afternoon, and the following Monday morning a witness told friends what he had seen, one could say truthfully that he recalled the events six days or eight days after they occurred. If one were counting only full days, then six would be correct (Tuesday through Sunday). But it also would be correct to speak of the events as occurring eight days earlier—if one were including both full and partial days (Monday through Monday). Whether one uses “six” or “ eight” does not discredit the account of what actually happened. Likewise, the time difference between Matthew, Mark, and Luke in no way represents a legitimate contradiction. Luke simply used the inclusive method of reckoning time (counting the portion of a day at either end of the period), whereas Matthew and Mark counted only complete days (Coffman, 1971, p. 261).
Coffman, James Burton (1971), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).