18.01.03 Mk. 16:1-4 (See also Mt. 28:1; Lk. 24:1-3; Jn. 20:1) At the Tomb
WOMEN CAME TO THE TOMB
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?” 4 Looking up, they observed that the stone — which was very large — had been rolled away.
18.01.03.Q1 Is there an explanation concerning the conflicting accounts of who was at the tomb on Sunday morning (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:10; Jn. 20:1-2)?
Critics have had a field day with the gospel accounts concerning the names of the women who were at the tomb. Obviously the number of Marys adds to the confusion, but that does not mean error.
- Matthew said in 28:1 that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (mother of Jesus?) were there.
- Mark said in 16:1 that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to the tomb.
- Luke said in 24:10 that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several “others” were there, and then told the disciples of the resurrection.
- John said in 20:1 that Mary Magdalene was present, and whoever was included in the “we” statement of 20:2.
Granted, this is somewhat perplexing, but as previously stated, that does not mean the event was untrue. Most importantly, is the fact that all four gospel writers said that women were the first to discover the missing body – and concluded that Jesus had indeed been raisen. This is significant, because women were not deemed to be legal witnesses. Men’s opinions of women were not always very good. For example, the two historians Josephus and Nicholaus (Nicholas) of Damascus seldom mention the names of any women. If the gospels were fabricated stories, then the writers made two huge errors.
- They should have written that men discovered that the tomb was empty, because only a man’s testimony was considered valid in Jewish law. This was clarified by Josephus:
Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.
Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15 (219b)
- They should have written or edited all four gospels to agree perfectly with each other as to who was there and who was not.
To believe that the gospel accounts were fabricated is a greater leap of faith than to believe that Jesus arose from the grave. Therefore, to account for the variations of names, the following must be considered.
- No gospel writer refutes another.
- While some of the names are different, both Luke and John mention unnamed individuals. There is no reason to believe that those individuals were women only.
- Not a single gospel writer claimed to have written all the names of the attending group.
So why are there variations? It is because each writer simply mentioned some of the women he thought were important to his audience. However, even though the testimony of women was not considered valid, each account is of two or more witness – a requirement for validation according to God’s law in Deuteronomy 17:6. This code of law became a defining rule for all situations, even counting the stars to determine when the Sabbath began.
The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness.
Finally, since the crucifixion and burial occurred so quickly, there was no time for the formalities of mourners and flute players. The Jewish custom was for women to visit the tomb up to seven days after the burial. Obviously, in this case, a lot changed within that time period.
“At sunrise.” The first day of the week Jesus arose from death and the women found the tomb empty. It is for this reason that the first Christians, who were nearly all Jews, gathered for worship on Sunday instead of the traditional Sabbath.
18.01.03.Q2 How could the Jews, who honored the Sabbath Day (i.e., Ex. 16:23-30) move it to the first day (Acts 20:7)?
The day of rest on the first day of the week is an interesting study. It should be noted that in the Jewish calendar the days of the week did not have names, but were numbered. Today, the names of both the days of the week and the months of the modern calendar are based on the Roman calendar system. “To rest” on the seventh day is what one did in ancient times and, hence, the seventh day became known as the “day of rest,” or “Shabbat” because it was a sacred designation. The word “Sabbath” is a noun, but it was originally a verb meaning “to cease, to abstain,” or “to put an end to.” A secondary similar meaning is “to be inactive, to rest.” To the Jews, who followed Jesus, they felt that God told them “to rest,” and what better way to honor God than “to rest” on the day when He arose from the tomb. Since they were still “resting,” they felt they were in complete compliance with the Mosaic Law. Jesus “rested” on the seventh day, meaning that He did no creative work. However, Jesus sustained His Creation on the seventh day and every day of rest since the Creation. “Working” is defined not only in terms of holding the universe together and doing good works, but also protecting it from the evil one.
Jewish Christians observed the evening of the seventh day of the week as their day of worship. Sunday worship is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 16:2, where believers collected funds for God’s people on the first day of the week, which was their day of worship. Some scholars believe that when the early church met on the first day, it was not on a Sunday morning, but rather, on a Saturday evening. Sunset was considered the beginning of a new day, and meeting in the evening would not conflict with normal work activities of the first day.
In Colossians 2:16 Paul told the church in Colosse not to let any one judge them. Why? It was because they did not worship on the traditional Sabbath, but on the first day. The Epistle of Barnabas referred to worship on the first day of the week as the “eighth day.”
This, by the way, is the reason why we joyfully celebrate the eighth day – the same day on which Jesus rose from the dead; after which He manifested Himself and went up to heaven.
The Epistle of Barnabas 15:9
Ignatius in his work Magnesians (Ch. 8-10) agreed with the early church fathers who said in their own instructional book that the,
Assembling on every Sunday of the Lord, break bread and give thanks, confessing your faults beforehand, so that your sacrifice may be pure.
The believers moved their day of rest from the last day of the week to the first day because it was on the first day of Creation that God created light (Gen.1:3-5). It was also on the first day of the week that Jesus, the Light of the World, arose from death and brought light and resurrected life to humanity. Evidently, Jewish believers, who remained faithful to their Mosaic Law, had no problem worshiping on a day that honored the resurrection of Jesus. They did not discard their Jewishness. Justin Martyr and Pliny the Younger, the nephew and adopted son of Pliny the Elder, (c. 112) made these comments concerning worship on the first day of the week.
The Day of the Sun is the day on which we gather in a common meeting, because it is the first day, the day on which God, changing darkness and matter, created the world; and it is the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead… and the memoirs or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.
Justin Martyr, First Apology 67
They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honor it; after which it was their custom to separate and then to meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.
Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97
“Before it was light.” Historians believe early Christians went to the synagogue Saturday morning, and met again for church after sunset the same day, which was the beginning of Sunday.
Justin Martyr wrote in chapter 47 of his Dialog against Trypho, that Jewish believers should be considered as “brethren” provided that they do not require Gentile Christians to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, or other Jewish ceremonies. However, Martyr also said that not all church fathers agree with him. It should be noted that the change from observing the Sabbath to the Day of Resurrection has nothing to do with Constantine (early 4th century) or the Hellenism of the Church.
Another witness to the change of Sabbath to Sunday was Ignatius Theophorus (A.D. 35 or 50-98 to 117) a/k/a Ignatius. He was a disciple of the Apostle John, became the third bishop of Antioch, and said this:
If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also rose through Him and through His death which some men deny – a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher.
Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 9:1
Pliny (c. 112) wrote his comments which are significant for several reasons.
- It demonstrates, from a secular source, how quickly the Christian faith spread throughout the Roman Empire.
- He preserved a segment of their worship service and reverence for Jesus.
- He mentioned their “solemn oath” was their steadfast refusal to worship another god.
- Their refusal to be a part of any crime was unbelievable to Pliny, who later described it as part of their “superstition.”
- This writing by the Roman governor and historian is the oldest record of the agape meal or communion, outside of Scripture.
Finally, it is believed by some that the modern name “Saturday” came from the Hebrew “Shabbat”. Such a conclusion is understandable, because both names sound similar. The name “Saturday” honors the Roman god Saturnius, for which the heavenly light “Saturn” was also named. The Romans had their greatest seven-day pagan holiday, “Saturnalia,” in mid-December to honor their god.
The Romans, however, had a passionate hatred for the Jews, and they certainly did not respect Jewish customs, traditions, or laws. After many revolts between the years 63 B.C. and A.D. 70, two major revolts (A.D. 70 and 135), thousands of Jews were either massacred, sold as slaves, or driven from their homes and land. The Jewish people were the proverbial “thorn in the flesh” for the Romans. The Jews no longer had any rights to life, much less to their ancient religion. Obviously the Romans would never honor them by assigning a Hebrew name to any day of the week.
One of the major difficulties emperors had with Jews and Christians was their insistence not to work one day in every week. For nearly three centuries the believers gathered to worship our Lord on a day when they were expected to be active in employment. Hence, it would have been much easier for them to not gather on the first day of the week and not violate any laws or be stigmatized as being lazy. For this reason, in the early fourth century, Emperor Constantine declared the first day a holiday, which relieved the social pressure on fellow believers. Many today believe that Sunday worship originated with Emperor Constantine. It didn’t, but he did make it a legal holiday (meaning holy day) for a practice that was already well established.
. For further study on the various opinions concerning the status and influence of women in the Second Temple Period, see the excellent work by Tal Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999. Take note of Chapter 3 on the discussions of two first century historians, Josephus and Nicholaus of Damascus, and their comments about women. See also Stemberger. Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. 15.
. Mishnah, Ketuboth 4.4; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 168.
. Osborne. “Jesus’ Empty Tomb and His Appearance in Jerusalem.” 786.
. Some critics have looked to the Gospel of Peter as evidence that refutes the biblical narratives. However, that account records people eating a meal and sleeping overnight in the cemetery, both of which reflect the writer’s ignorance of Jewish customs, and this is evidence that the Gospel of Peter is a fabricated story of little historical value.
. Ex. 21:19; Lev. 26:34-35; 2 Chr. 36:21.
. Funderburk, “Calendar.” 3:322-24.
. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.
. The Epistle of Barnabus 13:9-10.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 266.
. Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus. Pliny said that Christians recognized the deity of Christ.
. Cited by Flusser. “Who is it that Struck You?” 47.
. Lloyd, “Saturn.” 19:1088; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 45-47.
. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70.