For I handed on to you, as of foremost importance, that which I also received: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day [tē hēmera tē tritē] according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once, of whom most remain alive to this day, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles. And last of all, as to one who had been miscarried, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:3-8)
He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures
Paul’s scriptures nowhere explicitly indicate that the Christ will die and be raised on the third day. However, there is certainly an established pattern whereby Israel, or its faithful representatives, undergo suffering and persecution and possible death before being vindicated by God. Many “Psalms of Lament” follow this pattern (such as Psalm 22 and Psalm 30), as well as Isaiah 53, narratives within Daniel and its additions (Sussana and Bel and the Dragon), and the book of Esther.
It may be that “the third day” was an idiom that indicated the expected end of a certain sequence. So Hosea 6:2 expresses that Israel will be “raised up” on the “third day”, after suffering for a while. Luke has Jesus using the same idiom to speak about the necessity of reaching Jerusalem: “I am casting out demons and conducting healings today and tomorrow; and on the third day I will reach the goal.” The “Gabriel Revelation” also seems to utilise the number 3 in relation to days, perhaps confirming its use as an idiom in first century Judaism:
Line 19: Holiness for Israel! In three days [lšlšt ymyn] you will know
Line 54: …three days… [šlšt ymyn]
Line 80: In three days [lšlvšt ymyn]… I, Gabriel
The context and meaning of these lines is hard to determine. It seems that the phrase “three days” is important in the 87 line Hebrew inscription; but beyond this, not much is certain. In none of the above instances, however, are three literal days envisaged.
So in what sense did Paul believe that “the scriptures” were being fulfilled with the resurrection of Jesus on the third day? In the sense that the scriptures envisaged the necessary vindication of the righteous representative of Israel. That’s my take on it anyway.