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In the following verse

Matthew 27:62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate

Why didn't Matthew simply say "on the Sabbath"? Was there any special reason not to call Sabbath a Sabbath, but rather refer to it in such an obscured manner?

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Circumlocution is an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech. For example, instead of saying ‘Throw that in the trash bin’, one might say, ‘Throw that it in the oblong somewhat cone shaped silver container with a beveled lip'.

It seems to indicate an intentional avoidance of using the simple word and indicating that the Jewish Sabbath is no longer a valid institution after Christ died.

The argument of Matthew's use of circumlocution does not have clear intra-textural support, however as all understand Matthew to be focusing his account with more attention to its relationship to Jewish faith then the other gospels, the ideas is plausible.  John 19:31 and Mark 15:42 use similar language in describing the passover day, but only Matthew seems to skip the obvious word. It seems hard to imagine that a Jewish audience, Matthew's audience, would not notice it missing.

  • 1
    Very interesting, Mike, and quite along with what I guessed, but do we have any proof for that explanation? – brilliant Jul 12 '12 at 5:36
  • @brilliant - Added second para as 'proof' at least some proof. Cheers – Mike Jul 12 '12 at 7:17
  • I cannot see any evidence for such a view because all the other evangelists used the word "Sabbath" after Jesus' death. The disciples observed it (because they would not embalm the body) and it appears regularly in Acts such as 13:14, 27, 42, 44, 15:21, 16:13, etc. – user25930 Jul 27 at 21:52
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Respectfully, I do not think the circumlocution theory properly explains this problem. Let me borrow an already published explanation as an answer to this question "On what day was Jesus crucified?" from "GotQuestions.org" (an excellent resource, by the way):

The Wednesday opinion states that there were two Sabbaths that week. After the first one (the one that occurred on the evening of the crucifixion [Mark 15:42; Luke 23:52-54]), the women purchased spices—note that they made their purchase after the Sabbath (Mark 16:1). The Wednesday view holds that this “Sabbath” was the Passover (see Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:24-32, 39, where high holy days that are not necessarily the seventh day of the week are referred to as the Sabbath). The second Sabbath that week was the normal weekly Sabbath. Note that in Luke 23:56, the women who had purchased spices after the first Sabbath returned and prepared the spices, then “rested on the Sabbath.” The argument states that they could not purchase the spices after the Sabbath, yet prepare those spices before the Sabbath—unless there were two Sabbaths. With the two-Sabbath view, if Christ was crucified on Thursday, then the high holy Sabbath (the Passover) would have begun Thursday at sundown and ended at Friday sundown—at the beginning of the weekly Sabbath or Saturday. Purchasing the spices after the first Sabbath (Passover) would have meant they purchased them on Saturday and were breaking the Sabbath.

Therefore, according to the Wednesday viewpoint, the only explanation that does not violate the biblical account of the women and the spices and holds to a literal understanding of Matthew 12:40, is that Christ was crucified on Wednesday. The Sabbath that was a high holy day (Passover) occurred on Thursday, the women purchased spices (after that) on Friday and returned and prepared the spices on the same day, they rested on Saturday which was the weekly Sabbath, then brought the spices to the tomb early Sunday. Jesus was buried near sundown on Wednesday, which began Thursday in the Jewish calendar. Using a Jewish calendar, you have Thursday night (night one), Thursday day (day one), Friday night (night two), Friday day (day two), Saturday night (night three), Saturday day (day three). We do not know exactly what time He rose, but we do know that it was before sunrise on Sunday. He could have risen as early as just after sunset Saturday evening, which began the first day of the week to the Jews. The discovery of the empty tomb was made just at sunrise (Mark 16:2), before it was fully light (John 20:1).

  • I'm curious about the Wednesday view, is there a year within a valid window (let's say 30-34?) where two Sabbaths landed on the days you claim? I'm aware alternate calendars exist, but in any calendar, does it fit a valid year? – Joshua Apr 21 '15 at 23:12
  • Check this link: judaismvschristianity.com/passover_dates.htm – Raphael Rosch Apr 23 '15 at 5:27
  • Thanks that's interesting. I've personally been in favor of the 30 AD date. Is this chart saying in 30 AD that Passover started on April 7, Friday night into Saturday? Or is it saying it started the evening before...Friday, So it was Thursday night? Because other research I've read says Friday night into Saturday, thus aligned with the Sabbath. And of course, there's the matter of if we can believe the calendar at all. Sure we can use astronomy to figure it out going backward, how long from now, but we can't know what the days and dates were for sure at the time. – Joshua Apr 27 '15 at 2:08
  • The Hebrew day begins at sundown, so yes, Passover on 30AD begins on a Friday at sundown, meaning Passover occurred during a weekly Sabbath, meaning there was no time to purchase spices before the Sabbath, rest on the Sabbath and then prepare them after the Sabbath. I think the Wednesday crucifixion holds much weight. And 31 AD makes the best candidate for the date. – Raphael Rosch Apr 27 '15 at 17:43
  • I understand, the column heading was just confusing on that chart. The issue I have with Wednesday view is that 1) it is all based on the demands of a specific reading of Mark 16. It does not demand that they did not simply buy the spices that morning, on the first day of the week. It seems like a big conclusion based on such little evidence. 2) in that view, Jesus is dead 4 days. As you admitted, the day begins at sundown. In your view Jesus died on Wednesday, was dead Thursday Friday and Saturday. It would be 4 nights too if he didn't rise before sundown Saturday. This is a problem. – Joshua Apr 27 '15 at 23:08
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The simplest explanation is Matthew did not call it the Sabbath because it was not the Sabbath.

Literally, the seventh day weekly Sabbath is described by two words. It is a "sabbath of rest:"

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest (שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙), a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places. (Leviticus 23:3) [ESV]

In addition to the 52 weekly sabbaths of rest, the entire 24-hours of Atonement is described as a day of Sabbath rest:

It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest (שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙), and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath (שַׁבַּתְּכֶֽם).” (Leviticus 23:32)

There are other days on the calendar on which work is prohibited. However, those days of rest are not specifically called a "Sabbath of rest." In particular, the day after the day of preparation is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and it is a day on which work is prohibited:

And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. (Leviticus 23:6-7)

Neither of the words used to described the Sabbath are used to describe the first day of Unleavened Bread. One of the distinctions between the two is what is commanded:

Sabbath command: rest
Unleavened Bread command: do no ordinary work

Avoiding "ordinary work" does not necessarily mean a person will observe a day of solemn rest; while observing a day of solemn rest means a person will avoid all types of work, including "ordinary work." Regardless of actual practices, the different language in Leviticus is such to allow some "work" on the fist day of Unleavened Bread which is prohibited on the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement.

Matthew has preserved this distinction between the first day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate...Now after the Sabbath... (27:62, 28:1)

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