THE TIME OF THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION
THE DAY OF THE RESURRECTION
Is the Easter-Sunday Resurrection a Biblical fact or an ecclesiastical fable? Wednesday Crucifixionists believe that it is a fable fabricated by “the so-called ‘apostolic fathers’ . . . to justify a pagan tradition of the Sunday resurrection of Nimrod, the pagan savior!”1 In their view Christ’s Resurrection occurred, not early on Sunday morning, but late on Saturday afternoon.
The “clinching proof” for the Saturday afternoon Resurrection of Christ is supposedly found in Matthew 28:1, 5-6. The text reads: “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 . . . And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (KJV).
This text allegedly pinpoints the time of the Resurrection on Saturday afternoon. The reasoning runs as follows: Since Matthew tells us that when the two Marys went to the sepulchre “in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” they discovered that Christ had already risen, this means that His Resurrection occurred in the last part of the Sabbath before the next day began.
To defend this conclusion, the dawning of the first day is interpreted as being the beginning of dusk (evening) rather than of dawn (morning). The reasoning runs as follows: “Since the Sabbath ended at sunset, it would be impossible for ‘dawn’ to mean morning here, for the sun would not rise until some 12 hours later. It could not be in the end of the Sabbath and morning at the same time.”2
An Apparent Contradiction. It must be granted that this reasoning represents an ingenious attempt to reconcile what many scholars view as two apparently contradictory statements. The contradiction lies in the fact that the end of the Sabbath at sunset does not mark the dawning of the first day, since the two events are about 12 hours apart.
The above interpretation, though ingenious, cannot be accepted for at least two reasons. First, because the verb “to dawn” (epiphosko) literally means not “to become dusk” but “to grow light,” “to dawn.” Second, because a figurative interpretation (i.e. to become dusk) in this instance runs against the explicit statements of the other Gospels which tell us that the women came to the empty tomb at daybreak “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2; cf. Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Thus other solutions must be found to this apparent contradiction.
I. LATE OR AFTER?
A first solution is suggested by the broader meaning of the adverb “opse” which is translated in the KJV as “in the end of” but in the RSV and most modern translations as “after.” The two translations reflect the dual meanings of the term, namely “late” or “after.”
An Approximate Time Reference. In the New Testament the term opse occurs only twice again, in Mark 11:19 and 13:35. In Mark 11:19 (“And when evening [opse] came they went out of the city”) it is hard to tell by the context whether opse designates the late afternoon of that day or the time after sunset, which, according to the Jewish sunset to sunset reckoning, would be the beginning of the new day.
In Mark 13:35, however, opse (“evening”) clearly designates the first watch of the night, from about sunset till about 9 p.m.: “Watch therefore for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening (opse) or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Mark 13:35). The fact that “opse” could mean not only the late hours of the day, but also the early hours of the new day, suggests the possibility that Matthew may have used the term as an approximate time reference simply to indicate that the Sabbath was over when the women went to the sepulchre.3
In the age of quartz watches when even seconds count, we expect the same accuracy from the Bible writers, who had only the sun at their disposal to measure time. The concern of Bible writers, however, seems to have been more with reporting the actual events than with the precise time of their occurrence. Mark, for example, says that Jesus was crucified approximately three hours earlier (“it was the third hour”—Mark 15:25) than John (“it was about the sixth hour”—John 19:16).
Similarly, the visit to the sepulchre occurred “while it was still dark” according to John (20:1) and “when the sun had risen” according to Mark (16:2). The existence of these time approximations in the Gospels suggests the possibility that Matthew also may have used opse loosely, simply to indicate that the women went to the sepulchre after the Sabbath was over and as the first day was dawning.
Late Greek Usage. The latter conclusion is supported by the usage of opse in late Greek writers as meaning “after.” While in the ancient Greek, as A. T. Robertson explains, “opse . . . occurs as a preposition with the genitive (Thuc. 4, 93) with the sense of ‘late on,’” later Greek authors, like Philostratus, use the word in “the sense of ‘after,’ like . . . ‘after these things.’”4
Edgar J. Goodspeed, another renowned Greek scholar, makes the same observation. He explains that “the adverbopse is sometimes used in the sense of ‘late,’ with a genitive of time . . . which would mean ‘late on the Sabbath.’ . . . But opse has another sense; it is also used by late Greek writers like Philostratus (second to third century) as a preposition meaning ‘after,’ followed by the genitive, opse touton, ‘after these things’ (Life of Apollonius vi. 10; cf. 4:18: opse musterion ‘after the mysteries’). This is the sense of the word in Matthew 28:1 and at once clears up any difficulty . . . The plain sense of the passage is: ‘After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning.’”5
Standard Greek Lexicons. The same explanation is given in several standard Greek lexicons of the New Testament. Walter Bauer’s lexicon, for example, points out that opse is “used as an improper preposition with genitive [meaning] after, (opse sabbaton) after the Sabbath(Matthew 28:1).”6 Bauer gives several examples of this usage, including one of Polyaemus where the following phrase occurs: “later (opse) than the hour decided upon.”7
Unfortunately some translations, such as the Revised Version, have ignored the late Greek usage of opse and thus they have translated Matthew 28:1 as “now late on the Sabbath day.” This translation would mean that the women came to the tomb late on a Saturday. “This might be the sense of the Greek words used in the classics,” but, as R. C. H. Lenski perceptively points out, “in the koine opse is used as a preposition and means ‘after,’ B.-P. 958; B.-D 164; Stellhorn, ‘long after something;’ Zahn, erst nach; R. 517. Mark agrees, ‘when the Sabbath was past.’”8
The same conclusion is reached by Edward Lohse, though from a different basis. He finds that the phrase opse sabbaton of Matthew 28:1, corresponds to the Rabbinicmosa’e shabbat “and thus means the night from the Sabbath to the first day of the week.”9
Toward the Dawn. Further support for the meaning ofopse sabbaton as “after the sabbath” rather than “late on the sabbath,” is provided by the second time element given by Matthew to date the visit of the women to the sepulchre, namely, “toward the dawn of the first day of the week” (Matt 28:1).
The Greek verb epiphosko literally means “to shine forth,” “to grow light,” “to dawn.” It must be said that this verb is used not only in a literal sense to describe the morning dawning of a new day, but also in a figurative sense to refer to the evening beginning of a day. In Luke 23:54epiphosko is translated “drew on” (KJV) or “beginning” (RSV), in reference to the approach of the Sabbath at sundown.
In Matthew 28:1, however, expositors are generally agreed that the verb epiphosko is used in its literal meaning of “to dawn.” This conclusion is based first of all on the parallel statements of the other Gospels, which explicitly place the visit of the women to the tomb “at early dawn” (Luke 24:1; Mark 16:2; John 20:1). There is no hint in any of the Gospels that the women made two visits to the sepulchre, one on Saturday afternoon and one on Sunday morning. Thus we are justified in concluding that the “dawning” in Matthew is literal as in the other Gospels.
Sabbath’s Travel Restrictions. A second reason is suggested by the prevailing Jewish restrictions on Sabbath travel (Acts 1:12), which would have precluded any visit to the tomb on Sabbath afternoon from a distance greater than 2/3 of a mile. Since Mary Magdalene lived in Bethany, a distance of 2 miles from Jerusalem (Matt 21:1), and since she presumably spent the Sabbath at home (Luke 23:56), she could hardly have traveled to the tomb before the end of the Sabbath.
The same must be said for the evening after the close of the Sabbath. In the East people in general, let alone women, do not travel in the darkness of the night, particularly to a burial place “to see the sepulchre” (Matt 28:1). It is far more true to life for the women to have traveled from Bethany to Calvary early on Sunday morning, as indicated by the Gospels (Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
At Passover time the astronomical morning twilight began in the latitude of Jerusalem at about 4:00 a.m. and the sun rose at about 5:30 a.m. This means that if Mary Magdalene arose about the time it began to get light (John 20:1), and walked from Bethany to Christ’s sepulchre, she would have arrived by sunrise (Mark 16:1; John 20:1).
Other Difficulties. Several other difficulties arise if the Resurrection and the visit of the women to the tomb are placed “late on the Sabbath day.” The many events which are described in Matthew 28:2-15 and attached to the time designated in verse 1 could hardly have taken place “late on a Sabbath day.” For example, it is hard to believe that the risen Christ would tell the women on a late Sabbath afternoon, “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee” (Matt 28:10). It would have been against prevailing customs to start out on a trip late on a Sabbath afternoon.
Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the following events could have taken place on a late Sabbath afternoon: the guards going to the city to inform the chief priests about what had happened (v. 11); the chief priests assembling the Council to decide what action should be taken (v. 12); the Council paying the soldiers to fabricate the story of the stealing of Christ’s body by His disciples (vv. 12-13).
More decisive still is the instruction given to the soldiers by the chief priests: “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by nightand stole him away while we were asleep” (v. 13). In view of the fact that the soldiers had been stationed at the sepulchre during the light hours of the Sabbath day (Matt 27:62-66), they could hardly have told the people on Saturday evening that the disciples stole Christ’s body by night, when no night had yet intervened between the beginning of their vigil and the Resurrection.
In the light of the above considerations on the language and context of Matthew 28:1, we conclude that this passage offers no support whatsoever to the view of a late Sabbath afternoon Resurrection and visit of the women to the sepulchre. The indications submitted have amply established that the plain sense of Matthew 28:1 is: “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week” (NIV).
II. SUNRISE TO SUNRISE
A second possible solution to the apparent contradiction between the two time references found in Matthew 28:1 is suggested by the possibility that Matthew here used the sunrise-to-sunrise method of day reckoning. If Matthew used this method, for which there seems to be some support both in the Old and New Testament, then any apparent contradiction would be automatically resolved, because the end of the Sabbath would mark the dawning of the first day.
A host of scholars have for many years argued for the existence in Biblical times of two methods of reckoning the day: one from sunset to sunset and the other from sunrise to sunrise. The data evidencing the existence of the two methods will be examined in the following chapter. The study will show that the support for the sunrise-to-sunrise day reckoning, though less explicit than that from sunset to sunset, cannot be ignored.
Summary of Evidences. Five main types of evidences suggesting the existence of the sunrise reckoning in Bible times are generally presented. Each of these will be considered in the following chapter. At this point we shall briefly state them.
First, there are sacrificial laws which specify that the sacrifice must be eaten on the day upon which it was offered, with nothing left over until the morning. Such statements suggest that the morning marks the end of the previous day and the beginning of the new day.
Second, there is the Passover legislation of Exodus 12 which places both the slaying of the Passover lamb in the afternoon and the eating of it during the following night, on the 14th day of the month (Ex 12:6, 8, 10, 18, 42), thus implying a sunrise reckoning. According to the sunset reckoning the night following the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was no longer the 14th but the15th day of Nisan (Lev 23:5; Num 28:16). In Exodus 12, however, the events of the night following the slaying of the Passover lamb are placed on the 14th in accordance with the sunrise reckoning.
Third, there are about 50 references in which the “day” is mentioned before the “night,” which suggests a reckoning whereby the day begins and ends at dawn. Fourth, there are several passages in which the night is reckoned with the previous day, which suggests that the day terminated at sunrise. Lastly, there are statements in Josephus and the Talmud which suggest a sunrise to sunrise reckoning.
Coexistence of Two Reckonings. The study of these evidences suggests, as we shall see in the next chapter, that the two methods of day reckoning may have coexisted side by side in New Testament times. If that is true, and the available indications make it plausible, then Matthew’s statement that the women came to see the sepulchre “in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt 28:1; KJV), makes perfect sense, because the end of the Sabbath would indeed mark the dawning of the first day of the week.
This explanation sheds light also on Mark’s account of the two women who went out to buy spices to anoint Christ “when the Sabbath was past” (Mark 16:1). According to the sunset-to-sunset day reckoning, the women would have gone out to purchase spices on Saturday night after sunset. This may have happened, but it hardly seems true to life because in the East women do not go out to make purchases on Saturday night, in the darkness without street lamps, and when the shops are closed.
According to the sunrise-to-sunrise reckoning, however, the women could easily have gone out to purchase spices early Sunday morning, because in the East people are up and about their business very early, long before most Americans or Europeans leave home for work. Thus the women could easily have slipped into a neighbor’s shop to purchase the spices still needed.
According to Luke, the women had already started to prepare “spices and ointments” on Friday afternoon (Luke 23:56). Thus, it is possible that the women went out very early Sunday morning to buy only those missing ingredients and then they went back home to finish the mixing, before hastening to the tomb. According to Mark “they went to the tomb when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2). They could hardly have carried out their purpose of anointing Christ’s body at the tomb in darkness. These considerations confirm the possibility that Matthew used the sunrise-to-sunrise reckoning and are true to the prevailing customs of the time.
Conclusion. The conclusion that emerges from the above examination of Matthew 28:1-6 is that this passage offers no support whatsoever for a Saturday afternoon Resurrection. Four main reasons have led us to this conclusion. First, in the New Testament the term opse is used as an approximate time reference which in Matthew could simply mean that the women went to the sepulchre “after” the Sabbath was over and the first day was dawning.
Second, the word opse is used by late Greek writers as a preposition meaning “after.” Standard Greek lexicons and modern translations recognize that this is the sense in which the word is used in Matthew 28:1.
Third, several details of the context suggest that the visit of the women to the tomb could not have taken place late on a Sabbath afternoon on account of prevailing Sabbath travel restrictions. Furthermore, the latter would contradict the parallel statements of the other Gospels which place such a visit explicitly “at early dawn” (Luke 24:1; Mark 16:2; John 20:1).
Lastly, there is a possibility that Matthew could have used the sunrise-to-sunrise reckoning which seems to have coexisted side by side with the sunset-to-sunset reckoning. In that case, the end of the Sabbath would mark literally the dawn of the first day of the week when Jesus was resurrected (Mark 16:9).
The analysis conducted in this book of the three key New Testament texts commonly adduced in support of the Wednesday-Crucifixion/Saturday-Resurrection, has shown, it is hoped to the satisfaction of the most critical minds, that these texts offer no probative support for such a view.
In Chapter 2 we have seen that the sign of Jonah found in Matthew 12:40 consists primarily in the Resurrection event, rather than in the time element of a 72-hour entombment.
We have established that the literal interpretation of the phrase “three days and three nights” is discredited by such factors as the idiomatic use of the phrase “a day and a night” to designate a calendrical day, whether complete or incomplete; the prevalent method of inclusive day reckoning; the identical meaning of the two phrases “after three days” and “on the third day;” Luke’s account of Christ’s appearance on Sunday evening to two disciples (Luke 24:21); and the Gospels’ chronology of the Passion weekend which leave absolutely no room for two Sabbaths to intervene between Crucifixion day and Resurrection day.
In Chapter 3 we have shown that “the day of Preparation of Passover” mentioned in the second key text, John 19:14, was a Friday and not a Wednesday. The main reasons we have cited for this conclusion are: the consistent and exclusive use of the term “Preparation” to designate Friday; the sequence of the days as given in the Synoptics: “Preparation, Sabbath, first day;” the absence of any example of Passover day being ever designated simply as“sabbaton—Sabbath;” the absence of any example of Passover day ever being called “High Day” or “High Sabbath” and the presence of such examples where the weekly Sabbath coincided with Passover; and the absence of any early Christian testimony or hint suggesting the Wednesday-Crucifixion/Saturday-Resurrection.
In Chapter 4 we have ascertained that the visit of the women to the tomb mentioned in the third text, Matthew 28:1-6, took place not on a late Saturday afternoon but on an early Sunday morning. We have reached this conclusion on the basis of the following reasons: the use of the word opse in late Greek writers as meaning “after;” the contextual details which negate the possibility of a late-Saturday-afternoon Resurrection and visit to the tomb; the possible use by Matthew of the sunrise-to-sunrise day reckoning.
The two following chapters are an appendix to the preceding study. Chapter 5 will examine the possible coexistence of two methods of day reckoning in Bible times, and its implication for the time reference of Matthew 28:1. Chapter 6 will address the thorny question of when to begin and end the Sabbath in those parts of the earth where the sun sets very early, or very late, or not at all for a certain period of time.
The conclusion of this investigation, then, is that the attempt to construct a Wednesday-Crucifixion/Saturday-Resurrection theory on the basis of the three texts examined must be regarded as a noble yet groundless effort, because it lacks both Biblical and historical support. The cumulative witness of the Gospels and of history clearly supports the traditional chronology of the Friday-Crucifixion and Sunday-Resurrection of Christ.
Our fervent hope is that the polemic over the time element of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection may not cause some persons to lose sight of the fact that our Christian faith is built not on some esoteric knowledge of the exactduration of Christ’s entombment, but rather on the certainty of the fact that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
NOTES ON CHAPTER IV
1. Herman L. Hoen, The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday(Pasadena, California: Ambassador College, 1968), p. 14.
2. The Time Element in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, published by the Bible Advocate Press of the Church of God (Seventh Day), p. 14.
3. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich note in their lexicon that when “opse” is “used as an improper preposition with genitive, it means . . . after the Sabbath Matt 28:1” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Chicago, 1979], s.v. “opse“).
4. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, 1923), p. 645.
5. Edgar J. Goodspeed, Problems of New Testament Translation (Chicago, 1945), pp. 43, 45.
6. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1979), s.v. “opse,” p. 601. See also F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1964), p. 91; Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, England, 1939), s.v. “opse,” vol. II, p. 1282.
7. Walter Bauer, note 6.
8. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Columbus, Ohio, 1943), pp. 1147, 1148.
9. Eduard Lohse, “Sabbaton,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1971), vol. VII, p. 20.
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