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When did the women go to Jesus’ tomb?

Posted on Apr.05, 2010. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Average rating: 4.7 / 10 (Rate It).

When Jesus’ body had been laid in the tomb, several of the women who had followed him went to anoint his body with spices. The gospels all agree that they visited the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, but they disagree about whether it was light or still dark.

Matthew and Luke both have the women visiting the tomb at dawn, suggesting that it was just getting light:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. [Matthew 28:1, NRSV]

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared… [Luke 24:1, NRSV]

Mark confirms this, but says more clearly that the sun had risen by the time that they arrived:

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. [Mark 16:2, NRSV]

John, however, explicitly states that it was still dark at the time of the visit:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb… [John 20:1a, NRSV]

So was it light when the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, or was it still dark?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1
    dysfunctional

    With all due respect, I believe all of you are missing a couple of crucial facts.

    We have to understand that each of the four gospels have gaps in the narratives. Gaps in one account are filled by verses in another. This is what makes the gospels “complementary”. It also makes the book unreadable to an unbeliever, because belief in the accuracy of each account must be accepted by faith. Only then can the christian search and study to make some sense of the narratives. You are all to be commended as you make some excellent points.

    Now this is critical. The “last supper” was not the actual Passover meal, but a traditional “preparation day supper” that ushered in the Feast Week. So, Jesus could properly refer to keeping this “passover” with his disciples.

    JN.18:28, they led Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment…and they went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the passover. See also 19:31.

    The Passover of EX. 12 was to be kept in the home by each Jewish family. Strangers and visitors could partake with their hosts if the men were circumcised.

    Among the women who followed Jesus were M. Magdelene and others who would have lodged in the upper room. However, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, lived in Herods palace on the west side of the upper city. A few of the women likely kept the passover there. But do not forget Mary and Martha of Bethany. There is no doubt that they and women who lodged with them for the Passover would have planned on meeting the women from Jerusalem at the tomb early Sunday morning.

    So, if you recognize the gaps in the narratives, and realize that the women were separated into three subgroups as they made their way independently to the tomb early Sunday morning, virtually every major “contradiction” and discrepency dissipates.

    M. M. and two others from the upper room (JN.)

    Joanna and others from her home, probably with the spices (LK)

    The women from Bethany (combine MK, and MATT.)

  2. 2
    dysfunctional

    Here is my probable sequence…

    1. M. M., Salome, and the “other Mary” visit the tomb “while it was yet dark” (several minutes before dawn; not pitch dark). They see the open sepulchre, and hurry to the upper room, assuming the body had been removed. “…WE know not where they have laid him…” (JN.20:1-2)

    2. Peter and John, followed only by Mary Magdalene, run to the tomb and return; leaving M. M. alone (vs, 3-10)

    3. Mary sees the angels, and then the risen Christ; and brings the news to the disciples (11-18). No one believes her (MK. 16:10-11)

    4. Meanwhile, the second group has arrived and finds the stone removed. They ENTER, and rwo angels appear to them. They hurry to the upper room. They do NOT see Jesus because he has ascended to present himself to the Father, as he told M. M. (LK. 24:1-9).

    5. As the second group enters the city, the women from Bethany pass by OUTSIDE the northern wall. They do not meet. This group has their experience, and makes a beeline for the upper room. By this time, Christ has returned from the heavenly tabernacle. (MK.16:2-8, MATT.28:5-8)

    LK. 24:10-12 summarizes the disciples’ response; and Peter makes his SECOND visit to the sepulchre.

    This entire sequence likely spans less than 20 minutes. (ten minutes before dawn, to ten minutes after?)

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