When Did The Disciples Go To The Tomb?

It has been a longstanding question as to when the disciples went to the empty tomb1. Most people who call themselves Christians celebrate a sunrise Easter mass, copying the pagan habits of the Mithra worshipers and other such faiths whose sun worship and fertility worship combined to make for a sunrise festival in the springtime devoted to eggs and bunny rabbits and other symbols. If one reads many translations of the Bible, one will find that this sunrise mentality is part of the interpretation. The bias of translators is what itself provides much of the confusion about timing that exists.

Since I normally use translations to make the point (given that most of my Bible versions are a bit inaccessible right now), I will compare two of the translations to see how the accounts of the risen Christ appear, the usual New King James Version that I use as well as the 1599 Geneva Bible that is another favorite translation of mine. After comparing these two translations, it will then be time to explain what makes the translation of these passages go astray sometimes when translators attempt to enforce a misinterpretation of scripture into their translation of the text.

Starting with the New King James, let us examine the passages that talk about the disciples going to the tomb. Matthew 28:1 reads: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Mark 16:1-2 reads: “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.” Luke 24:1 reads: “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.” John 20:1 says: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”

Reading these accounts in the New King James, one is led to believe that around sunrise, depending on how you take the different versions, Mary Magdalene and some other women went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, and then they went back to inform the disciples (namely Peter and John) about what had happened at the tomb. Let us examine what the 1599 Geneva Bible says, though, to see if any light is shed on what it means.

In Matthew 28:1 in the Geneva Bible, we find that it reads: “Now in the end of the the Sabbath, when the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, came to see the sepulcher.” The translators gave a revealing footnote to the verse, misstating the case but providing enough of the truth to make it notable: “At the going out of the Sabbath, that is, about daybreak after the Roman count, which reckon the natural day, from the sun rising to the next sun rising: and not as the Hebrews, which count from evening to evening.” In fact, the end of the Sabbath would not be at sunrise at all, but at sunset, because the account of Matthew was scrupulous to count time according to the Hebrews and not according to the Romans. Moving right along, Mark 16:1-2 reads: “And when the Sabbath day was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome, brought sweet ointments, that they might come and anoint him. Therefore early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher, when the Sun was now risen.” Luke 24:1 reads: “Now the first day of the week, early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, and brought the odors which they had prepared, and certain women with them.” Finally, John 20:1 reads: “Now the first day of the week came Mary Magdalene, early when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and saw the stone taken away from the tomb.”

Where the translations go away appears to be in a couple matters. For one, none of the translations appears fully able to square Mark’s comment about the sun with the clear statements in John about the sun not having risen yet. Additionally, the statements about the Sabbath in Matthew appear to be somewhat ambiguous to most of the translators. Young’s Literal Translation for Matthew 28:1 only adds to the confusion: “And on the eve of the Sabbaths, at the dawn, toward the first of the Sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.” Here we see that what is being referred to is not dawn at all, but rather the beginning of the count of the Pentecost at sunset, at the start of the first day of the week (when the wave sheaf offering was to be done according to the scriptures). Without an understanding of the timing, translators have gone awry. Young’s Literal translates Mark 16:1-2 as follows: “And the sabbath having past, Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of James, and Salome, bought spices, that having come, they may anoint him, and early in the morning of the first of the Sabbaths, they come unto the sepulchre, at the rising of the sun.” Again here Young’s Literal notes the counting of the Sabbaths as was customary for the time between Passover and Pentecost, neglected in the other versions (the translators not knowing or keeping the biblical Holy Days), but again there is the note about the rising of the sun. Oddly enough, the commentaries show themselves out of their depth when they begin discussing twilight instead of dawn for this verse, recognizing that this verse is talking about the darkness after sunset, at the beginning of the Hebrew day, rather than the darkness before sunrise, at the beginning of the heathen day. Instead of dawn, this passage is talking about twilight. Likewise, Young’s Literal translates Luke 24:1 as follows: “And on the first of the Sabbaths, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bearing the spices they made ready, and certain others with them,” The Greek word here means “late at night” in some Greek texts, as it refers to when people have supper, not breakfast (see Plutarch’s comments about Alexander The Great). Finally, Young’s Literal translates John 20:1 was follows: “And on the first of the sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene doth come early (there being yet darkness) to the tomb, and she seeth the stone having been taken away out of the tomb.” Again, Young’s Literal correctly notes that counting towards the Feast of Weeks, and again there is ambiguity in the recognition of darkness and that it is immediately after the Sabbath but also being based on a desire to justify a dawn resurrection.

Let us not forget, after all, that everyone knew the only “sign” of Jesus Christ was that he would lie in the earth for three days and three nights2, and so for that reason the enemies of Jesus Christ within the Jewish community sought for a guard to be placed to prevent the disciples from stealing the body of Christ, which, in light of their demoralization, appears to have been the last thing on their minds. There would have been no point in having a guard in place three and a half days after Jesus Christ was buried on Sunday morning, and a raising any earlier than Sabbath at sunset would have failed to meet the required 72 hours for Jesus Christ to be in the tomb. Therefore, what makes the most sense is to read the various account as saying: “at the beginning of the first day of the week, at twilight, Mary Magdealene came to the tomb to find the stone rolled away.” Reading it this way preserves the correct understanding of the beginning of the biblical day at sunset, properly deals with the fact that it was getting dark because the sun had set but it was not yet completely dark. What is means is that some translators need to get back to the drawing board and leave their misinterpretations behind. Let us never forget that translating often depends on what we understand a verse to mean—and in few cases is that tendency more pernicious than in the account of the disciples at the tomb.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When Did The Disciples Go To The Tomb?

  1. Pingback: Mysteries Of The Bible: What Made Jesus’ Generation So Wicked For Asking A Sign | Edge Induced Cohesion

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