Did Joseph of Arimathea Bury Jesus on the Sabbath? The meaning of the Greek Word “Opsias”.

Image result for image of joseph of arimathea taking down Jesus body
Joseph of Arimathea


Matthew 27:57 in Greek:

oyiaV de genomenhV hlqen anqrwpoV plousioV apo arimaqaiaV tounoma iwshf oV kai autoV emaqhteuqh tw ihsou 

 English Translations:

King James Version
27:57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

American Standard Version
27:57 And when even was come, there came a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

Douay Rheims
27:57 And when it was evening, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.


Gary:  What does the Greek word “opsias” (the Greek word in bold above) mean?  In most English translations of the Greek New Testament, this word is translated into English as “evening”.  But what did “evening” mean to the author of the Gospel of Matthew?  Most people today consider “evening” to mean a period of time after sunset.  Many conservative Christian apologists say that “evening” in this passage means late afternoon before the sun has set.  Which is it???

Let’s take a look at what the experts say about this passage:


John Gill’s Bible Commentary:

When the even was come
The second evening, when it was just at sunset; at which time the Jewish sabbath began, and when the bodies of those that were crucified, must be taken down; and if not dead, their bones must be broken, and they dispatched, in order to be interred in the common burying place of malefactors:

Gary:  This expert seems to suggest that Jesus’ body was taken down “at sunset”, which means the body was buried after sunset, which would mean that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus on the Sabbath.


Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

When the even was come – That is, some time after three o’clock in the afternoon. Before this, the Jews had besought Pilate that the legs of those who were crucified might be broken and the bodies be taken down, that they might not remain on the cross during the Sabbath. The soldiers, coming to Jesus for that purpose, found that he was already dead, contrary to their expectation. A soldier, however, thrust a spear into his side, and there was furnished the fullest proof that he had expired.

Gary:  So this expert says that “evening” is some time after 3 PM.  Note though that Barnes’ assumes that the Jews were in a hurry in Matthew’s account to get the bodies off of their crosses by sunset based on what evidence?  Answer:  John’s account!  This is an interpolation.  There is no indication in Matthew’s account of anyone being in a hurry to get the bodies in the ground prior to sunset, the start of the next day which was the sabbath.


Myer’s New Testament Commentary:

Ὀψίας δὲ γενομ.] the so-called first or early evening, just before the close of the Jewish day. Deuteronomy 21:22 f.; Joseph. Bell. iv. 5. 2. See also Lightfoot, p. 499.

When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession.  —Deut. 21:22


Pulpit Commentary:

When the even was come. This was what was called the first evening, the time between the ninth hour, or three o’clock, and sunset, and the great sabbath would shortly be beginning.

Gary:  So another expert who believes that “evening” started at 3 PM.


Adam Clark Commentary:

When the even – This must have been about three o’clock, or a little after; for our Lord having expired about three o’clock, Matthew 27:46, and the Jewish passover beginning about four, it was necessary that Joseph, who would not fail to eat the passover at the usual time, should have obtained and buried the body of Christ some time before four o’clock. But such was the general consternation, occasioned by the prodigies that took place on this most awful occasion, that we may safely conjecture that nothing was done in order, and perhaps the passover itself was not eaten at the usual hour, if at all, that day. See at the end of the preceding chapter.

Gary:  So this expert believes that “evening” started at 3 PM and Passover started “about 4 PM”.  Wow.  So Joseph had one hour to:  Go to Pilate; be granted an audience with Pilate; “beg” Pilate for the body; Pilate sends a messenger to fetch the centurion; the centurion comes to Pilate; Pilate asks the centurion if Jesus is dead; The centurion gives a report about Jesus; Pilate grants permission to Joseph to bury the body; Joseph stops of at a linen store to buy the burial cloth; Joseph removes the nails from Jesus hands and feet.  Joseph lowers the body of Jesus off the cross; he wraps the body in the cloth; he carries the body to his rock tomb nearby; he puts the body in the tomb; he rolls the stone in front…and still has time to make it home before 4 PM for his Passover meal!  Holy Speedy Arimathean, Batman!


Vincent’s Word Studies:

When even was come

The Hebrews reckoned two evenings, an earlier and a later. The former began midway between noon and sunset, or at three o’clock in the afternoon. The latter began at sunset, six o’clock. The reference here is to the earlier evening, though the time may have been well on toward the beginning of the later. The preparations had to be hurried because the Sabbath would begin at sunset,

Gary:  If there are two evenings, how does Vincent know that Matthew is referring to the first evening and not the second?  Is he assuming???  There is no indication in Matthew’s Gospel of anyone “hurried” by the approaching Sabbath.

Wesley’s Explanatory Notes:

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

When the evening was come — That is, after three o’clock; the time from three to six they termed the evening. Mark 15:42Luke 23:50John 19:38.

Gary:  Ok, another “three o’ clocker”.


It looks like there is no conclusive proof either way.  The author of “Matthew” uses a term that translated into English means “evening”.  Our experts say that Jews had two evenings.  Matthew does not specific to which of these evenings he was referring.  If you read “Mark’s” account of this scene, he states that it was “evening, the day of preparation” which means it was still Friday.  Since “Matthew” copied Mark almost verbatim in many parts of his gospel, maybe “Matthew” meant the same thing.  Bottom line, we don’t know.  We can only guess.




End of post.


15 thoughts on “Did Joseph of Arimathea Bury Jesus on the Sabbath? The meaning of the Greek Word “Opsias”.

  1. Question: Why don’t you have even one single Rabbinic source among your experts?

    Do you believe everything that white guys from western civilizations going back to the 1400’s believes about Jewish stuff?

    What makes you think – as you posited in an earlier blog entry – that Joseph of Arimathea could possibly have been running around Jerusalem, visiting Pilate, buying linens, and carrying the body of Jesus around on the Sabbath?

    If your info here, in your mind, is “inconclusive”, then the way to get MORE conclusive of that “Joe of A” scenario you posited is to ask whether it was even possible for Joe of A to (for example) BUY something at a market that had already been closed for the Passover.

    The writer of Matthew knew there was a “need for hurry” due to the onset of a sabbath. Why, and on what basis, did you conclude that Joe of A – a devout Jew – waited for four or four and a half hours, after the death of Jesus (at 3:00pm) to go attempt to do what was going to be impossible to do – ie, buy linens at a market that had already closed?

    I’m still trying to get to the bottom of that…

    As far as “two evenings” are concerned, the Jews had “divisions” of time – the Minhah prayer, the “evening” prayer, began at 3:00pm. The “late” evening was twilight. But we do the same thing in English – we talk about doing something early in the evening or late in the evening, but, we don’t have (formally) two evenings. We, like the Jews, just have “evening time”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The writer of Matthew knew there was a “need for hurry” due to the onset of a sabbath.

      Who was this author and how do you know what he “knew”?

      If it will make you happy: “After further investigation, it is unclear if the author of Matthew was claiming that Joseph went to Pilate after sunset. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But remember: According to Matthew, the chief priests went to Pilate on the Sabbath to request guards be placed at the tomb! So I would not put it past “Matthew” to claim that J. of A. was schlepping back and forth from Pilate’s to Golgotha after sunset (Saturday, the sabbath).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. re: “The writer of Matthew knew there was a “need for hurry” due to the onset of a sabbath.
        Who was this author and how do you know what he “knew”?”

        If I knew who the writer of Matthew was, I wouldn’t have said “the writer of Mattew”.

        I know that Matthew is aware of Sabbath-related laws: There are nine references to such laws in the book of Matthew.

        As to your statement beginning “If it will make you happy…” — Yeh, it’s fine. It admits to being nothing but speculative dribble. Nobody cares about that.


  2. I’m wrong! I’m wrong! I’m wrong!

    (That was for “ftbond”)

    The Greek word “opsias” means “late” as “ftbond” has stated. Bart Ehrman agrees with him (tentatively):

    My question to Bart Ehrman:

    Some Christian apologists say that the Greek word in question “opsias” means “late” and that Jews used this term to refer to the time period of 3PM – 6PM. This would have given Joseph of Arimathea three hours to go to Pilate, buy the burial cloth, take Jesus down from the cross, and bury him.

    But, it starts to get dark only after the sun goes down (sunset) which is the start of the next day, which in this instance, would have been the sabbath. Is it really possible that first century Jews referred to late afternoon (when the sun was still in the sky) as “evening”?

    Bart Ehrman’s response:

    I don’t know. I’d have to see some evidence of it. In the standard Greek lexicon of the NT it is claimed that it often refers to the period between late afternoon and darkness, but I would have to do a word study to be convinced. From what I’m seeing in a quick overview, it appears that the word simply means (literally) “late” rather than “after sundown”


    1. As I said, I don’t need to roll out a PhD….

      When a day ENDS at sundown (not at midnight), guess what? “Evening” is pushed forward by several hours. The End of the Day, at sundown, is preceeded by a few hours of evening. And that’s why you find both the evening sacrifice and evening prayer at 3:00pm. 3:00pm is getting “late in the day”, when the day ends at 7:00pm.

      BUT — Nope, I don’t HAVE a PhD. I was just saying a PhD isn’t necessary to prove “expertness” in something.

      Believe it or not, there are people that read and write both Greek and Hebrew these days as their primary language. They may not have PhD’s, but are far, far more informed about their own languages than a person from some country and some other culture where (for example) English is spoken.


      1. Just because someone speaks English fluently doesn’t mean he or she is an expert of the English language, in particular, the English language from many, many centuries ago.

        Expertise matters. Experts matter. Just as most educated people would not take the medical advice of some Joe Blow who claims he has has spent years studying thousands and thousands of medical articles on the internet, most educated people will refuse to take the word of an amateur Christian apologist (you) who thinks he knows more about the Christian New Testament than the majority of New Testament scholars, just because he has allegedly spent a lot of time studying that document.


        1. re: “most educated people will refuse to take the word of an amateur Christian apologist (you) who thinks he knows more about the Christian New Testament than the majority of New Testament scholars,”

          Oh, goodness, no doubt about it.

          But, between you and me?

          Well, if they read this blog, they’re far more likely to take MY word for something than yours. At least I researched the word “evening”. You didn’t. You had no idea what you were talking about.

          So, sure, let’s say I’m no expert. But, let’s equally say I’m more expert than you.


          1. You might be. I will leave that for others to judge. However, I do not presume to know more than the majority of experts. I accept majority expert opinion on all issues. You do not. That is the major difference between us. And it is my humble opinion that a non-expert who thinks he knows more than the experts is a fool.

            I was wrong on the meaning of “opsias”. I admit it. I admitted it here on my blog above. I do make mistakes. But I never claim to be an expert. I never claim to know more than the experts. That is your schtick.


            1. You have often stated “the majority of experts believe…blablabla”, but you have never shown me where you get your data.

              For example, we agree that the Passover accounts in the Synoptics and John cannot be reconciled. However, I have stated that the reason they cannot be reconciled is because they are talking about two different Passover celebrations.

              You have said that the majority of experts don’t buy into the “different Passover” theory.

              Where do you get that info? You’ve never said.

              Ehrman wrote an interesting article (link below) in which he discusses this apparent disparity between the gospels (meaning the Synoptics vs John) regarding the Passover. And, he points out all the obvious things that we see in text. But not once – ever – does he cite any research at all regarding Jewish Passovers in the first century; not even as much as noting that (for example) the Jewish Encyclopedia itself says the practice changed in the 2nd Temple period. Ehrman simply never goes there. Doesn’t cite any Jewish historical records. Doesn’t mention the Darius Papyrus regarding the eight-day Passover celebration (from 416 BC, I believe).

              No. Instead, the reason he give for this disparity is this: “John, in other words, has changed the story to make his point.”

              He has concluded – without making ANY reference at all to Jewish historical information to the contrary, that the reason the stories cannot be reconciled is because John changed the story.

              MY reason which I offer – and for which I can offer very considerable historic support – is that at the time of Jesus, the Passover celebration had been changed, but the change had not been widely assimilated throughout Judea.

              So, Ehrman postulates that “John changed the story”, which is an interesting theory.

              I, on the other hand, postulate that the Passover celebration itself had changed, and can offer numerous points of historic data to back my theory up.

              So, you ask why I don’t believe the experts? Ehrman is an “expert”. And no, I don’t believe his version at all. What I believe is what the historic sources have to say, and Ehrman doesn’t seem to know a thing about them.

              Besides, I don’t really know anybody that is an “expert” at ancient history. Pulling together the pieces of history, and having to fill in all the blank spaces with suppositions is more an art than a science. If this were not true, you’d have Ehrman and Brown agreeing on everything, wouldn’t you?


              1. I never suggested accepting the opinion of ONE expert as fact. What I said is that most educated people accept as fact majority expert opinion. You on the other hand, see yourself as the final arbiter of truth. This is a very common attitude among Christian fundamentalists. I see this attitude as foolish, ignorant, and dangerous to society as a whole.

                Even if John is intentionally having Jesus and his disciple celebrate the Passover on a different day, the fact that this contradicts all three Synoptic accounts casts doubt as to its historicity. It is much more likely, according to most experts (See “Death of the Messiah” by Raymond Brown) that John was making an intentional theological point. After all, he never claimed to be writing a history text. He claimed to be writing a work of evangelism (propaganda) so that…”ye might believe”.


                1. Since we don’t know who wrote the Book of Acts we have no idea if Paul really made this statement or if the author was simply inventing a story. If you read the Gospel of Luke, there is no mention that J. of A. was a disciple or Jesus’ sympathizer. He was simply a good Jew (who did not vote for Jesus execution in the council). He was not a believer. He was not a disciple. Since the author of Luke was also the author of Acts (according to the majority expert opinion), there is no contradiction. J. of A. was one of the leaders of the Jews. Therefore he can be included in the “they” in the passage in Acts. “They” killed him. “They” buried him.

                  The point is that in Acts, enemies take Jesus down from the cross, in Matthew and John, disciples take Jesus down from the cross. That is a contradiction to everyone except you.


                    1. Since the author of Luke was also the author of Acts (according to the majority expert opinion), there is no contradiction. J. of A. was one of the leaders of the Jews.

                      No, the author of Luke and Acts is consistent. He never claims or infers in either book that disciple(s) took Jesus down from the cross (out of compassion). In both books he indicates that the Jewish leadership took down Jesus’ body from the cross.

                      I see you are using a new IP address to avoid moderation. Be careful. I can always add the new IP to my list of banned IP addresses. Stick to the topic and avoid personal attacks. I won’t put up with your rude behavior.


                    2. I didn’t realize I had either made any personal attacks or had exhibited rude behaviour as of late.

                      I will admit, though, I’ve been quite critical of your recent posts.

                      But I would remind you that it was you who actually took to literally mocking me because I disagreed with you about the word “evening”.

                      Even in this thread, you say “You on the other hand, see yourself as the final arbiter of truth. This is a very common attitude among Christian fundamentalists. I see this attitude as foolish, ignorant, and dangerous to society as a whole.”

                      I’d call this a personal attack. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any topic we are discussing.

                      I’ll be careful about “rudeness” and “personal attacks”, but I expect the same from you.


  3. BTW — I hope you do realize that once the sun goes down, it is EARLY. Not “late”. One the sun goes down, it’s the start of a new day. It’s NOT the “evening” of the previous day.


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