When did the Women Arrive at the Tomb? Sunday at Sunrise or Saturday at Sunset?

Image result for image of a sunrise
Sunrise in the east

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Gospel of Mark

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Gospel of Matthew

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.

Gospel of Luke

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 

–Gospel of John


Gary:  Skeptics have looked at these passages and said, “Aha!  A contradiction!  One passage says that the sun was already up when the women arrived at the tomb and one passage says it was still dark.”  Conservative Christians have countered, “Big deal.  The women probably arrived sometime in the time period between when it was just becoming light but the sun had not yet risen on the horizon.”

I have to agree with conservative Christians.  If this is the correct interpretation of these passages, I don’t think this should be labeled a contradiction.  The English word “dawn” can have a variety of interpretations.

But wait!  Is this the correct interpretation of these passages?  Mainstream, Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown says, no.

Raymond Brown:

Even though the Jewish calendric day began in the evening, popular parlance could be affected by a way of thinking in which a day is seen to start with sunrise—something that is still true today when the calendric day begins at midnight.  This has left its mark in the use of “dawning” for the evening-beginning of a Sunday in Matt. 28:1 and Gospel of Peter 9:35:  Neither writer is thinking of Sunday around 5 A.M.; both are thinking of Saturday just after sunset.  Notice that Matthew has omitted Mark’s (16:2) “very early” and “when the sun had risen”; and in Gospel of Peter 11:45, after the events happen, it is still night.  –The Death of the Messiah, p. 1353

Gary:  Wow!  If this is true, then there isn’t a difference of five or ten minutes between the four Gospel accounts, there is a whopping TWELVE hours!  In Mark, the women show up at approximately 5 AM on Sunday morning, but in Matthew, the women show up Saturday evening at approximately 5 PM, just after sunset!!!  Our Saturday evening (after sunset) is the “dawn” of the Jewish Sunday!

Dear conservative Christians:  How could eyewitnesses have written such very discrepant accounts of when the women arrived at the tomb?  Do you really expect us to believe that eyewitnesses could not remember whether this earth-shattering event occurred at sunrise or sunset???

Image result for image jerusalem at sunset
Sunset in Jerusalem

15 thoughts on “When did the Women Arrive at the Tomb? Sunday at Sunrise or Saturday at Sunset?

  1. In Matthew, there is very clear reference to the “lighting up” into “day one”…
    (epiphoskouse eis mian sabbaton – lighting up into day one of – after – the sabbaths).

    I got no idea what Brown is talking about.

    Mark says “lian proi tes mian sabbaton” – “very early daybreak/morning in the day one of – or after – the sabbaths” “very early daybreak/morning after the sabbaths”.
    “proi” was also used to refer to the 4th watch of the night, from about 3:00am to 6:00am, which is daybreak. Mark goes on to say that they “come to the tomb ‘anateilantos tou heliou’ – at the rising of the sun.

    Luke says “…mia ton sabbaton orthrou batheos” – “day one of-from-after the sabbaths ‘of early of deep’ – deeply early”

    John says “te de mia ton sabbaton maria he magdalene erchetai proi”… There’s that word “proi” again – daybreak.

    Again, I got no idea what Brown is talking about…


    1. Then why did Matthew, who copies almost verbatim the Markan story in the Passion Narrative, delete Mark’s “very early” and “when the sun has risen”? And why did early second century Christians still believe that the events at Jesus’ empty tomb all happened at night (Gospel of Peter, written 100-150 CE)?


    2. Gill’s Bible Commentary:

      Matthew 28:1

      In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

      In the end of the sabbath,…. This clause is by some joined to the last verse of the preceding chapter, but stands better here, as appears from Mark 16:1, and intends not what the Jews call the sabbath eve, for that began the sabbath; but what they call , “the goings out of the sabbath”; and as Mark says, Mark 16:1, “when the sabbath was past”: that is, when the sun was set, and any stars appeared. The Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, and Munster’s Hebrew Gospel render it, “the evening of the sabbath”; and the Persic version, “the night of the sabbath”; but must mean, not the evening and night, which preceded the sabbath, and was a part of it, but what followed it, and belonged to the first day.

      As it began to dawn; not the day, but the night; a way of speaking used by the Jews, who call the night, “light”: thus they say (y), , “on the light, or night of the fourteenth” (of the month Nisan) “they search for leavened bread”, &c. And so the word is used, in Luke 23:54, of the eve of the sabbath, or the beginning of it, as here of the going out of it;

      Source: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/matthew/28.htm


    3. Also the Greek word ὄρθρος (órthros) meant “the time immediately before or around sunrise.” The “dawn”, or the “diluculo” (Eng. before the daylight) from vulgata, is just a bad translation because people confuse these with the sunset and night. And, by the way, we also need to notice that the sun doesn’t stay still, but it rises all morning. Usually the sunrise is a short moment and quickly passes.


  2. Why did Matthews writing differ from Marks? Is that what you’re asking?

    I dunno. You tell me. Maybe Matthew like the sound of “epiphoskouse eis mian sabbaton” better. But, as far as I know, Matthew was not operating under any rules not to differ from Mark. Any way you cut the cake, though, Matthew says the women arrived “at first light”.

    As far as the Gospel of Peter goes – a document from the 2nd century – and a document that was never accepted by the church as “gospel” – all I can say is “who cares”? I mean, it’s the GoP that has a talking cross walk out of the tomb following Jesus. You might as well ask me why Homer writes about the Cyclops. It has about the same relevance.


    1. The problem is that you are interpreting “at first light” as a 21st westerner to be the sun and not the twinkling of the stars, as would a first century Jew.

      Meyers NT Commentary:

      Keim supposes the evening to be intended, since, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, the day began with the rising of the stars or the lighting of lamps, so that the meaning of our passage would be as follows: “In the evening after six o’clock, just when the stars were beginning to twinkle”[39] But to say nothing of the startling discrepancy that would thus arise between Matthew and the other evangelists, we would be under the necessity, according to Luke 23:54 (see on the passage), of understanding the words immediately following as simply equivalent to: τῇ μίᾳ σαββάτων ἐπιφωσκούσῃ; comp. ΣΑΒΒΆΤΟΝ ἘΠΙΦΏΣΚΕΙ, Ev. Nicod. 12, p. 600, Thilo’s edition. Nor, if we adopt Keim’s interpretation, is it at all clear what substantive should be understood along with τῇ ἐπιφωσκ. Ewald, Apost. Zeit. p. 82, unwarrantably supplies ἑσπέρᾳ, and, like Keim, supposes the reference to be to the evening lighting of the lamps, though he is inclined to think that Matthew intended summarily to include in his statement what the women did on Saturday evening and early on Sunday, a view which finds no support whatever in the text;

      Source: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/28-1.htm

      Gary: Notice that Mr. Meyers seems to reject Keim’s interpretation of the text, not because Keim’s understanding of Jewish time concepts and terms is incorrect, but because this interpretation conflicts with the Gospel of Mark and Luke! In other words, Meyers has presupposed that the Gospels must be harmonious instead of looking at the evidence that Matthew and Mark are describing two very different parts of the 24 hour day!


  3. good. You’ve discovered that scholars can differ on interpretations not only of language but also of events.

    As long as we’re cutting-and-pasting, here’s another one for you from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

    1. In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn—after the Sabbath, as it grew toward daylight.

    toward the first day of the week—Luke (Lu 24:1) has it, “very early in the morning”—properly, “at the first appearance of daybreak”; and corresponding with this, John (Joh 20:1) says, “when it was yet dark.” See on [1384]Mr 16:2. Not an hour, it would seem, was lost by those dear lovers of the Lord Jesus.

    came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary—”the mother of James and Joses” (see on [1385]Mt 27:56; [1386]Mt 27:61).

    to see the sepulchre—with a view to the anointing of the body, for which they had made all their preparations. (See on [1387]Mr 16:1, 2).

    Okee Dokee…

    Now, here’s what Matt says:

    “opse de sabbon te epiphoskouse eis mian sabbaton elthen maria….”

    “evening yet of sabbaths into lighting up of day one of-from-after sabbaths came maria”

    I guess you can make of that whatever you want. If it’s unclear, then all you can do is look at the *other* stories and find out what *they* have to say about it.

    But, as far as I know, “lighting up” doesn’t happen at sundown, unless maybe somebody is thinking “lighting up of candles” or something. And, I would warrant that you can ask any OTHER Hebrew-speaking person if “morning” or “daybreak” means “sundown” on a given day. Just check around. Find somebody else to ask. Granted, one might say “the *dawn of a new day*”, referring to “sundown”, but, that’s not what’s being said by Matthew. If I say “I saw Hosea working in the fields on the day of the Sabbath”, I’m not talking about seeing him working in the dark. I’m talking about seeing him working in the *daytime portion* of the Sabbath.

    One HAS to ask “how much sense does it make for women to go trapsing around in the dark in a cemetary”?

    But, hey, you can make of it what you will. I don’t care, really. But, that’s because I don’t rely all that much on Matthew to be terribly clear about anything…


    1. according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, the day began with the rising of the stars or the lighting of lamps, so that the meaning of our passage would be as follows: “In the evening after six o’clock, just when the stars were beginning to twinkle”[39]

      That may not make sense to you as a westerner, nor make sense to a modern day Jew, but that is how first century Jews (in Palestine, at least) saw things.

      Why would the women go “in the dark” to the tomb?

      Who said they went in the dark? There is approximately 20-30 minutes of twilight (light) after sunset.

      Here’s a question for you: Why did the women go to the tomb (in Matthew) if they knew it was sealed and guarded by soldiers?


      1. I think I probably already knew that quite well, actually.

        But, that is not what is in question here. What is in question is whether Matthew, using the term “lighting up”, was referring to the *daylight* hours of Day One, or whether he was referring to “lighting up candles”, thus referring to the *beginning* of Day One (which of course, would begin at a sundown).

        If one chooses the LATTER understanding, then, it means that the women went trapsing out into the dark, carrying spices, walking through a cemetary, to a presumably closed tomb.

        None of the other gospel writers thought that made a great deal of sense… And, neither do I. Therefore, I have to conclude that when Matthew is talking about the “lighting up” of “Day One”, he is referring to the advent of the sunlight hours of that day: hence, Sunday morning.


        1. You are trying to harmonize the four accounts.

          If you look at Matthew, John (and GPet), the evidence favors the women coming at the “dawn” of the Jewish first day of the week (Sunday), which would be Saturday evening from our perspective, after sunset. Further evidence that there was a tradition of coming to the tomb on Saturday evening is that the author of John says it was dark (night) when the women arrived at the tomb. (So much for your theory that women would not be “traipsing around” in the dark.)

          And by the way, in Matthew, there is no mention of the women bringing spices. But why were the women going to the tomb when they knew it was sealed and guarded? Answer: It is a plot set up for finding the tomb empty!


  4. nahhh, I’m not trying to harmonize anything.

    I’m just figuring that if Matthew was actually attempting to write something *believable*, then he wouldn’t expect a reader to think the women were out in the middle of the night going to a tomb, nor would he expect the reader to believe that the guards just managed to all fall asleep right after sundown.

    But, that’s just me. I read it – in Greek – and I see one ambiguous sentence that can potentially be understood in one way, or, in another. So, I just read it in the fashion that makes sense.

    As far as your reference to the dark, in John, he also clearly uses the word “proi” – daybreak. And, the last I looked, it is indeed dark until daybreak.


    1. Barnes Bible Commentary:

      In the end of the sabbath – The word “end” here means the same as “after” the Sabbath – that is, after the Sabbath was fully completed or finished, and may be expressed in this manner: “In the night following the Sabbath, for the Sabbath closed at sunset, as it began to dawn,” etc.
      As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week – The word “dawn” is not of necessity in the original. The word there properly means as the first day “approached,” or drew on, without specifying the precise time.\

      Source: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/28-1.htm


      1. I guess as long as we’re cutting-and-pasting stuff:

        “Nolland believes that the Greek is ambiguous, but can be read to refer to Sunday morning. “Late on Sabbath” can be read as “after Sabbath” and the “beginning of the next day” as the “dawning of the next day”, and thus sunrise on Sunday. Nolland also notes that other Jewish texts from the period are also imprecise and refer to the dawn as the beginning of a new day.[7] Davies and Allison also consider the Saturday evening timing as less likely, as an evening visit would have been implausible, as two women would not have travelled to the edge of town as darkness was falling in that era.[8]” [ wiki ]

        We can both find “pro” and “con” arguments written over CENTURIES on this passage. Why? BECAUSE IT’S AMBIGUOUS! If it wasn’t ambiguous, there wouldn’t be such non-conclusive bantering going on for the last 2000 years.

        If you’re asking “when did the women arrive at the tomb?” (according only to Matthew), then, you’re just not necessarily going to be able to tell, with the way Matthew wrote this. That’s all there is too it. He chose odd phrasing to express whatever it was he wanted to express, and it is very clearly – not clear.


  5. Look I believe the women left to go the tomb while it was. Dark and by the time they got there to the tomb it was already sunset


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