When was the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb?

Posted on Apr.06, 2010. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Average rating: 1.5 / 10 (Rate It).

After Jesus’ death, his body was laid in a tomb which was sealed with a large stone. Some of the women who had followed Jesus went to the tomb to anoint his body with spices. But was the tomb still sealed when they arrived?In Mark, the women worry that they won’t be able to get into the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, but fortunately find that the stone has already been rolled away:

They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. [Mark 16:3-4, NRSV]

In Luke, too, they find the tomb open:

… they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb… [Luke 24:1b-2, NRSV]

John also has the tomb already open:

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. [John 20:1b, NRSV]

In Matthew, however, when the women arrive the tomb is still sealed, and an angel then opens it for them:

… Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great Earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. [Matthew 28:1-2, NRSV]

So had the stone already been rolled away when the women arrived at the tomb, or did they see it being rolled away by an angel?

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

    The NASB gives a translation that is more friendly to the inerrantist response above:

    “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

    And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.”

    So the tomb opening was over and done with when the women arrived. The guards also, were probably long gone.

    Notice that in the NASB, the word “Idou” is translated with the more typical “Behold” instead of “Suddenly”. Also the word “egeneto” is rendered as “had occurred” instead of “there was”. The verb is in the aorist tense, which is supposed to indicate a successful action that occurred a specific point in the past. There is no suggestion given that this was happening before their eyes. The only verb in verse 2 that is not aorist is “sat” which is imperfect. So the angel was sitting on the stone. So, it seems that the earthquake had occurred, the angel had rolled away the stone, the guards had fled, but the angel was (still) sitting on the stone.

  2. 2

    Sorry, posted too soon, the guards did not flee, they fainted. And that happened in verse 4. But it is still reported in the aorist: It was not going on while the women were arriving at the tomb, but was over and done with.

  3. 3

    WisdomLover, I agree the guards had recovered and fled before the women arrived at the tomb.

    Note verse 11,
    Now when they [the women] were going [to the tomb], behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

    By the time the women arrived, the angel had moved into the tomb, and was “sitting on the right side…”
    MK. 16:5

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