MATTHEW 28:1 WHEN DID THE LADIES VISIT THE TOMB?
From the writings and studies of Dr.Samuel Bacchiocchi Ph.D.
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"
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 9:00
p.m.: "Watch therefore for you do not know when the master of the
house will come, in the evening (apse) 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
In an 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).
(Actually there is no contradiction - see those chapters and that
"time" element explained in my New Testament Bible Story - Keith
Similarly, the visit to the sepulchre occurred "while it was
still dark" according to John (20:1) and "when the nun 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.
(Exactly - Matthew is not concerned with the number of "hours"
the Sabbath had ended, when the women came to the tomb. He just
wants us to know that the Sabbath HAD ENDED - Keith Hunt)
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.'"
Edgar J. Goodspeed, another renowned Greek scholar, makes
the same observation. He explains that "the adverb opse 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
Standard Greek lexicons.
The same explanation is given in several standard Greek
lexicons of the New Testament. Walter Bauer's lexicon, for exam-
ple, points out that opse is "used as an improper preposition
with genitive [meaning] after, (opse sabbaton) after the Sabbath
(Matthew 28:1)." Bauer gives several examples of this usage,
including one of Polyaemus, where the following phrase occurs:
"later (opse) than the hour decided upon."
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.Leaski perceptively points out,
"in the koine (the everyday Greek of the common people - Keith
Hunt) '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.'"
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 Rabbinic "mosa'e shabbat" and
thus means the night from the Sabbath to the first day of the
Toward the Dawn.
Further support for the meaning of 'opse 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 23:54 "epiphosko" 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 travelled to the tomb before the end of the
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 travelled 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).
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 night
and 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
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).
For many decades the Church of God, Seventh Day, have taught that
the ladies did come to the tomb late on the Sabbath, and that
Jesus was resurrected on the late Sabbath. Maybe the Church of
God, Seventh Day still teach that. There may also be others who
teach that idea, of the women coming late on the Sabbath to find
the tomb empty and Jesus then resurrected on the late Sabbath
When I first heard of this teaching (the ladies coming to the
tomb on the late Sabbath) I was quite amazed at it. Taking a
"harmony of the Gospels" book, or just simply putting all four
Gospels accounts together, I had never come to such an idea that
the women came TWICE to the tomb. It is clear from all the Gospel
accounts that the women came to the tomb ONLY ONCE, in the very
early hours of the first day MORNING of the week, when as John
states, "while it was yet dark." They started their journey
before the sun had risen, and arrived at the tomb in the very
early hours of the LIGHT DAWNING TOWARDS the morning of that
I have covered in detail all these events of the coming of the
ladies and male disciples of Jesus, to the tomb, in the last
chapters of the Gospels of the New Testament Bible Story. I refer
the reader to those chapters.
I have also written in other studies (I believe in some of the
Pentecost Feast studies) that Jesus did rise from death on the
FIRST DAY of the week, BUT NOT ON SUNDAY MORNING. He arose from
death in the early hours of SATURDAY EVENING, when the first day
of the week started. Jesus was the WAVE SHEAF, and the wave sheaf
was CUT in the early hours of the day AFTER the Sabbath had
Jesus was NOT put in the tomb on the 14th of Nisan or Abib, but
some hours after the 14th had ended and the Sabbath of the 15th
had started. Hence three days and three night (72 hours) later he
rose in the early hours of the FIRST DAY, or as we would say, the
early hours of Saturday evening.
Jesus was the FIRST of the FIRSTFRUITS (1 Corinthians 15) and so
it was very fitting that He should rise from death ON the first
day of the week, as the wave sheaf was being cut to be offered
the next day (Sabbath day) in the Temple as the first of the
first-fruits wave sheaf offering.
Pentecost Feast is on the FIRST DAY of the week - in typology it
represents the FIRST-fruit spiritual harvest of saints for the
It all comes together in perfect typology.
All of this is dealt with in detail in many other studies on this
Entered on this Website January 2008