When did Jesus rise from the tomb? Some say that there is a conflict in the wording of Matthew 28:1, but is there really any conflict? Some things become clearer the second or even third time you look at them…
Matthew 28:1 (KJV)
28 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.
Matthew 28:1 (NKJV)
28 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.
In the end of the Sabbath or Now after the Sabbath?
Now, we must remember that Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days. He was crucified on Friday and placed in the tomb, His body stayed there through the Sabbath, and He arose on Sunday morning. Many have seen a problem with this verse because of that timeline. They say that Matthew 28:1 is placing the resurrection to occur on the Sabbath day before Sunday. This would have Jesus only being in the tomb 2 days and would make His prophecies of a three day resurrection wrong. They also believe the translation of this verse conflicts with the other gospel accounts.
There are only two Greek words in this controversial opening phrase to the verse, even though four to six words are being represented in English.
The first Greek word is δέ de. It is a primary particle which can be adversative or continuative. It can be represented in English by “but”, “and”, etc. The Greek Textus Receptus New Testament has this word appear 2,870 times. It is represented in English in the KJV with “but” 1237 times, “and” 934 times, “now” 166 times, “then” 132 times, “also” 18 times, “yet” 16 times, “yea” 13 times, “so” 13 times, “moreover” 13 times, “nevertheless” 11 times, “for” 4 times,”even” 3 times, and various other words or phrases including “In the end of.”
The second Greek word is σάββατον sabbaton. It is of Hebrew origin and is the seventh day, the Sabbath day, or, as we commonly call it, Saturday.
Based on those two words, with the first word having so many differing interpretations available, it is correct that you can translate that phrase as “Now after the Sabbath” as the NKJV does, BUT NOTICE, which word is the NKJV translating as δέ de? The only word that would fit as a translation of δέ de is “Now”, not “after!” The after is coming from another source. This is wordplay between two differing source texts. While researching this, I even found this type of wordplay represented in the KJV study bible comment on Matthew 28:1, produced by Thomas Nelson, the producers of the NKJV:
All four Gospels essentially agree in reporting the facts of the Resurrection. The variety of details in each account supplement rather than contradict one another. The empty tomb was discovered in the end [Gr. opse, used as improper preposition for “after”] of the sabbath, agreeing with the other evangelists. By Jewish reckoning the day ended at sunset and the new day began at the same time. Thus, Saturday night by our reckoning was actually Sunday by their calendar.
(King James Version Study Bible . electronic ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. Print.)
The disturbing thing about that reference is that it isn’t referencing the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament that the KJV and NKJV use as the basis for their translations. It is using the Greek Critical Text when it states that the Gr. opse, used as improper preposition for “after” is being translated with the KJV! Instead of the Greek word δέ de which appears in the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament, it states that “In the End” is referring to a Greek Word from a Greek source text that the original translators weren’t even using in 1611! The Critical Text is a modern invention that all the modern bible translations use as their base text (except for the NKJV and the MEV), but all of the older English translations use the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament. (I did a video on the differences in the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text if you would like to know more about that issue: Why are Verses Missing in My New Bible?)
Now, after a little study, we can see that the NKJV translates “Now” as δέ de, then uses the words “after the” to help fix any conflict that others might find within the timeline by referencing the Critical Text. The KJV just translated the Greek word as it stood in the Textus Receptus as “end” adding the “In the” and “of the” for clarification as a phrase. The NKJV translators obviously felt that there was no better way to translate the text but to reference both the Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in their translation. I believe they are just trying to work with what they have, but I don’t believe they had to do all of this wordplay around this verse. They had enough to translate it well already using only the Textus Receptus.
Which brings us to the big question: Does this represent an error in the Bible or the Textus Receptus? Did Matthew give the wrong timeline for the most important event in his entire life? This is the very event that he would face martyrdom for because he believed in it so strongly that he would refuse to not preach the truth of it for the rest of his life. Did he not recall how it happened that well? Did the compilers of the Textus Receptus get the wrong word as it went down throughout the centuries?
I don’t think so. First, let’s see what the other gospel writers state about this event to see if there really is a conflict.
Mark 16:1-3 (KJV)
16 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
Luke 24:1-2 (KJV)
24 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
John 20:1 (KJV)
20 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
Even Augustus thought at first this was a problem for the timeline, but, after another look, said that he didn’t think it was a problem at all. According to the Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture, “St. Augustine was concerned that an initial reading of the verse indicated the Saturday date, but argued it could also be read as referring to Sunday morning and thus in keeping with the other gospels.” (Matthew 14-28 – Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture: New Testament. ed. Manlio Simonetti. InterVarsity Press, 2002) What could be a different perspective on this verse that would cause us to see it that way?
I believe that what is happening in this verse isn’t a statement about when Jesus rose or when the stone was pulled away (that is addressed in the next verse, Matthew 28:2), but when the ladies started their journey toward the tomb. Isn’t that what it is stating when you look at it again? “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.” Matthew 28:1 isn’t talking about how the ladies ended their journey, but how they began it. Now, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1 are all describing when they arrived, not when they began the journey. Only Mark 16:1 goes deeper to give us the understanding of the timing of the beginning of their journey, as Matthew 28:1 does also, and they don’t contradict.
John Gill, famous English Baptist pastor of the 18th century, explains this well in his commentary on this verse:
In the end of the sabbath,.… This clause is by some joined to the last verse of the preceding chapter, but stands better here, as appears from Mark 16:1, and intends not what the Jews call the sabbath eve, for that began the sabbath; but what they call מוצאי שבת, “the goings out of the sabbath”; and as Mark says, Mark 16:1, “when the sabbath was past”: that is, when the sun was set, and any stars appeared. The Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, and Munster’s Hebrew Gospel render it, “the evening of the sabbath”; and the Persic version, “the night of the sabbath”; but must mean, not the evening and night, which preceded the sabbath, and was a part of it, but what followed it, and belonged to the first day.
As it began to dawn; not the day, but the night; a way of speaking used by the Jews, who call the night, אור, “light”: thus they sayF25, אור לארבעה עשר, “on the light, or night of the fourteenth” (of the month Nisan) “they search for leavened bread”, &c. And so the word is used, in Luke 23:54, of the eve of the sabbath, or the beginning of it, as here of the going out of it;
(Gill, John. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1”. “The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible”. 1999.)
So, as we can see, there is no contradictions here at all. The ladies began their journey at “the goings out of the sabbath” another way of saying at that time, as Mark says in Mark 16:1, “when the sabbath was past.” If God can send His Son to earth to die and rise again in order for us to be saved from the judgement, He surely can get His word to agree in a timeline across the centuries about the most important event in history. Amen.