All four accounts use the same word to identify the day of the Resurrection:
Now after the Sabbath (σαββάτων), toward the dawn of the first day of the week (σαββάτων)... (Matthew 28:1) [ESV]
And very early on the first day of the week (σαββάτων)...(Mark 16:2)
But on the first day of the week (σαββάτων)...(Luke 24:1)
Now on the first day of the week (σαββάτων)...(John 20:1)
Therefore, there is no contradiction in any record as to which day it was. The meaning of the word σαββάτων is unquestionably Sabbaths (plural) and so "first day of the week" interprets the word, which in this case happens to agree with the day of the week (see below).
Nevertheless, the plural form of Sabbath had a different meaning for anyone who was Jewish:
- More than one weekly Sabbath. For example, all months have four weekly Sabbaths but occasionally a month will have five.
- Some weeks will have an annual feast day on which no work is to be done. These days can be called a "Sabbath" and a week with an annual day will have "Sabbaths."
With the exception of the Day of Atonement, the annual days are not called Sabbath using the exact language; rather they are specified as days on which no work is to be performed:
- The 15th of the first month, the first day of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6)
- The 21st of the first month, the seventh day of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:8)
- The Feast of Weeks, the day after the 7th Sabbath following the Passover (Leviticus 23:21)
- The 1st of the seventh month, the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:25)
- The 9th of the seventh month, the Day before the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:32)
- The 10th of the seventh month, The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:28)
- The 15th of the seven month, the first day of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:35)
- The 22nd of the seventh month, the "eighth" day of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:36)
The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is observed on the day after the weekly Sabbath. Adding the other days of the week as they are known today illustrates an annual reoccurring "Sabbaths:"
In this case the day after "Sabbaths" is always a Monday. So, unless the context specifically points to the weekly Sabbath, the day after "Sabbaths" does not always mean the first day of the week. In fact, no Jewish writer would have that meaning in mind as the annual observance of Shavuot makes such a meaning impossible. Moreover, if a writer wanted to convey the first day of the week, the proper way to do so is so say the day after the Sabbath (singular). For example, Shavuot is observed on the day after the Sabbath.
With respect to the Resurrection, it is possible to force Sabbaths to refer to more than one weekly Sabbath. In this case the writers have in mind the final week which began with a Sabbath (likely the Triumphal Entry) and His final day in the tomb, also a Sabbath. So Jesus rose from the dead following the Sabbaths (of His final week), the first day of the week (Sunday).
On the other hand, the most likely explanation is Sabbaths refers to two consecutive Sabbaths: the weekly Sabbath and the 15th day of the month, the first day of Unleavened Bread. Depending on which day of the week the 15th day of the month fell, there are two possible sequences:
Setting aside the issue of the beginning of a day, whenever the first day of Unleavened Bread is on a Friday, this annual day of rest precedes the weekly Sabbath and the day after these two Sabbaths is Sunday, which coincidentally is the first day of the week. In this case, the interpretation of Sabbaths as the first day of the week places the day of the Resurrection on Sunday.
Additional support for this meaning comes from Luke:
23:55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 23:56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath (σάββατον - singular) they rested according to the commandment. 24:1 But on the first day of the week (σαββάτων - Sabbaths), at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Luke)
The preparation of spices and ointments, which would be considered as breaking the Sabbath, took place on the first day of Unleavened Bread, a day in which no ordinary work is to be done (Leviticus 23:7). What the women did was not "ordinary" work. The next day, the weekly Sabbath, they did no work according to the commandment. On Sunday, the after the two Sabbaths, they went to the tomb. Additionally, after specifically identifying the Sabbath (singular), the next day is either the next day (cf. Acts 20:7) or the day after the Sabbath (singular). The explanation for Sabbaths is two in number: 1) the first day of Unleavened Bread 2) the weekly Sabbath.
Correctly placing the Resurrection on a Sunday, however accurate, obscures the fact the day of the resurrection was already on the calendar:
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. (Leviticus 23:9-14)
The Resurrection was on the day of the Feast of Fruits, a day in which work is permitted.
Recognizing "Sabbaths" as two consecutive days which end after the Sabbath places the Resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week; it also prevents placing the death on a Friday. Yet, placing the death on Friday requires the day after the Sabbaths to be Monday which conflicts with the tradition the day was the first day of the week. Thus, the more lasting impact of rendering "Sabbaths" as the first day of the week or simply as the day after the Sabbath, is that it obscures the fact the death cannot be on a Friday.
1. Just as “Passover” became synonymous for the day of Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread (cf. Luke 22:1), any day on which work was prohibited was a "Sabbath" of rest and assembly.