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The Syriac of Luke 23:54 seems to affirm an interpretation of "Sabbath Dawning". In addition, the same word seems to be used 43 times in the Syriac New Testament to mean "Dawn".

So, Why is ἐπέφωσκεν, (Dawning) interpreted completely differently in Matthew and Luke?

NASB, Luke 23:54 - It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin / dawn.

NASB / Interlinear Matthew 28:1 - Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn, (ἐπιφωσκούσῃ) toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

  1. Are there historical examples where "Sabbath Dawning" can mean : "Sunset before the Sabbath" - idiomatically?
  2. Are there any other examples of "Sabbath Dawning", (σάββατον ἐπέφωσκεν, Luke 23:54, Interlinear) used anywhere else - in Greek/Semitic literature?
  3. Or, is "Dawning" interpreted idiomatically - only to conform to Rabbinic/Pharasaic tradition ? - excluding other traditions, (Sadducees, Kairaites, etc).

Note: See also : Sabbath, Sabbaths or week? Matthew 28:1

Related:
- Luke 23:54 - Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day began at Sunrise?
- Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day Began at Sunset?
- Re. The Crucifixion: Possible to Correlate Timekeeping and Calendar Systems?
- Historical Evidence of the Sabbath Rest Beginning the Preceding Night?

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  • 1
    Actually "Sabbath" is "Sabbaths" and "first day of the week" is "Sabbaths." In both cases the word σαββάτων is used. Jun 26, 2016 at 13:10

7 Answers 7

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Luke 23:54 is using the word to signify an approaching event (the Sabbath about to begin), whereas Matthew 28:1 is using it to signify daybreak.

We do this in English as well. The way a word is used is just as important as what the word itself is (though I'd say more important).

Dawn:

noun

  1. the first appearance of daylight in the morning:
    Dawn broke over the valley.
  2. the beginning or rise of anything; advent:
    the dawn of civilization.

verb (used without object)

  1. to begin to grow light in the morning:
    The day dawned with a cloudless sky.
  2. to begin to open or develop.
  3. to begin to be perceived (usually followed by on):
    The idea dawned on him.

From John Gill's commentary on Luke 23:54,

and the sabbath drew on, or "shone out"; which is so said, though it was evening, on account of the lights, which were every where, in every house, lighted up at this time, and which they were, by their traditions, obliged to: for so run their canons;

"three things a man is obliged to say in the midst of his house on the evening of the sabbath, when it is near dark, have ye tithed? have ye mixed? (i.e. the borders of the sabbath, the courts and food) הדליקו הנר, "light the lamp".'

[...]

So that when these lamps were every where lighting, before the sun was set, and the sabbath properly come, it might be said to draw on, or to be shining forth. Besides, it was usual to call the evening of any day by the name of "light": thus it is said,

אור לארבע עשר, on the light (i.e. the night) of the fourteenth (of the month "Nisan"), they search for leaven, &c.'

So that the evangelist might, very agreeably to the way of speaking with the Jews, say, that the sabbath was enlightening, or growing light, though the evening was coming on.

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  • - Brian - A.) I understand how the idea can be idiomatic in English. But, is there evidence of this in Greek literature? B.) Or, examples of it used idiomatically in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew? Apr 6, 2016 at 14:07
  • @elikakohen - A) The evidence is in the texts you quoted. Why do you think Greek words don't have slightly different meanings depending on how they are used? B) In my defense, your question didn't originally ask for examples from the LXX.
    – user6503
    Apr 6, 2016 at 14:12
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This question is driven by understanding ἐπέφωσκεν as “dawning".

Most translators see ἐπέφωσκεν as beginning or drawing near. For example:

And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. (KJV)
It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (NASB)
It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. (NRSV)

Although the literal meaning is dawning [Thayer's - G2020]: Thayer's

And it was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was dawning. (DLNT)

The word is used just twice in the New Testament, here and Matthew 28:1 in a similar context:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week (σαββάτων τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων), Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (ESV)
[literally: "Sabbaths it dawning toward the first Sabbaths"]

Dawn as the light at morning is described using ὄρθρος. [G3722 - orthos] This can be seen from the Septuagint:

On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day (ὄρθρου), and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. (Joshua 6:15 ESV)
And as morning appeared (ὄρθρον), the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, until it was light. (Judges 19:26 ESV)
I rise before dawn (ὄρθρον) and cry for help; I hope in your words. (Psalm 119:147[148] ESV)

In addition, there is not a single use of ἐπέφωσκεν in the LXX. Given the use in the LXX, there is no reason to understand either Luke of Matthew as describing the Sabbath as beginning at morning.

Since a day begins at sunset, there is a question as to what position of the sun constitutes "sunset." Clearly, unless the definition is total darkness, there will always be some visible light remaining when one day ends and the next begins.

Regardless of the exact moment, the next day will always begin in the evening light. Therefore it is proper to speak of the start of the Sabbath (and every day) as "beginning or dawning" as long as it is done without creating confusion with the morning dawn, the ὄρθρος of the day. Luke (and Matthew's) use of ἐπέφωσκεν describes the next day on the calendar dawning not the morning dawn ὄρθρος of the day.

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  • +1 for identifying that "ὄρθρος" is used for "dawning" as well; A.) However, I did not accept this answer because it is not logically valid : it "begs the question" - presupposing that : "Since a day begins at sunset, there is a question as to what position of the sun constitutes 'sunset.'"; B.) This statement is false : there is no reason to understand either Luke of Matthew as describing the Sabbath as beginning at morning. C.) Many held this belief, which is why there was so much debate. (see jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/362/362_day.pdf , etc). Mar 27, 2017 at 5:06
  • 1
    My exact statement is: "Given the use in the LXX, there is no reason to understand either Luke of Matthew as describing the Sabbath as beginning at morning." The Septuagint uses ὄρθρος to describe the morning dawn; had Luke intended to communicate the morning dawn he would have used ὄρθρος. As he chose a different word ἐπέφωσκεν, I believe it is accurate to say he is not trying to describe the ὄρθρος. Mar 27, 2017 at 5:24
  • RevelationLad - A.) As I said, I believe that point you made about Luke using a unique word is very strong. However : was Luke using a different word for added emphasis? Or, to mean something different. B.) Given the context - emphasis seems reasonable - especially given the connotation of Phos/light. C.) But, if Luke means exactly the opposite of what he said - then there should be better evidence than appealing to Rabbinic Tradition. Again - the question here, is just analysis of that one word - outside of doctrine - by relying on extant literature at that time. Mar 27, 2017 at 5:28
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Clearly "Sabbath Dawning" is referring to sunrise. It dawned toward the Sabbath based on Matthew and Mark since Joseph went to Pilate at sundown:

Mark 15:42-43 (KJV)

And now when the evening was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.

and also...

Matthew 27:57-58

When the evening was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named >Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:

He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

He buried Jesus after sundown and according to Luke after they buried Jesus, the the Sabbath dawned (sunrise). Based on this, the gospels clearly tell us that a day begins at dawn.

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  • J. +1. Thank you, the connection to Joseph and Pilate, that evening had already come. Aug 28, 2017 at 15:19
  • 1
    Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. We are glad you are here! Please take a moment to take the site tour and review some of our guidelines for participants and our FAQs. These are some outstanding observations, so I have better edited them to follow our formatting guidelines.. For future answers, if you have a moment to review these guidelines, that would be awesome! Aug 29, 2017 at 2:54
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Dawning doesnt have to mean sunrise. It can mean that a new day in comming in and... God said the evening and the morning where the first day. Genesis. So the new day dawns in at sunset. Thats how people get the resurection wrong.

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    A couple of points: 1. Is there any example, at all, in any Jewish or other historical literature of "dawning" being used this way? And 2: The quote from Genesis is taken out of context: It is more like, "God labored, there was evening, there was morning - the first day". Everyone seems to forget the parts about God. Jul 18, 2018 at 18:26
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In Psalm 93 LXX "τετράδι σαββάτων", the literal expression "the fourth of the week" means the "fourth day of the week", see for example 1 Corinthians 16:2. The Greek term "σαββάτων" is the approximate transliteration of the Hebrew term "שבת shabbath′" so that Jews, and later Christians, did not pronounce the Roman day names, which are references to their gods. When the term "σαββάτων" is used without a number, it only refers to the weekly rest day or a Sabbath such as Passover.

The use of the term ὀψὲ is well understood in Mark 13:35 and the expression εἰς μίαν σαββάτω of Mathews 28:1 means “into the first day” and the term ἐπιφωσκούσῃ points to the period from 00:00 to 06:00 a.m. Sunday.

There is only harmony in the conjecture if the term ὀψὲ is referring to the Roman Saturday, ending at 00:00 a.m (midnight) and in this situation, the sun rose before 06:00 a.m.

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Using the text to interpret the text, there are many wonderful interpretations of this Sabbath dawning. Three verses (among many) that can frame the interpretation are:

  1. Ecc. 11:7 Poetic imagery artistically declaring this day (of Christ's resurrection) is especially sweet and pleasant.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

  1. Hebrews 4:3. The spiritual sabbath has officially begun! It's a permanent rest available for Christians who believe in the living Christ.

For we who have believed enter that rest...

  1. A fulfillment of Malachi 4:2, with Christ being the risen sun

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

In this passage, a sense of excitement about the resurrection is conveyed. The door is officially open for any person to be free from their yoke of sin! The disciples will soon be persuaded it's actually true (it's dawning on them).

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The question is: How should "Sabbath Dawning" be Interpreted?

The Sabbath drew on ἐπιφωσκούση (Lk 23:54), and, Late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn ἐπιφωσκούση (Mt 28:1), a verb in both cases: They are the same hour of the day, exactly one day apart: Why wouldn't they be? Lk 23:54 is the ending of the Preparation day into the Sabbath. Mt 28:1 is the ending of the Sabbath (23:62-66), into the first day of the week, which cannot contradict the Galilean woman arriving at the tomb in the dark of that night (Jn 20:1-2).

The women looking for Jesus (Lk 23:47-24:1), crossed the Mount of Olives four times together, on the first day of the week: From Bethany to the tomb and back in the dark (Jn 20:1-2), and again, from Bethany to the tomb and back in the daylight (v10-18). On their third pass over the Mount of Olives, they found Jesus together, at the rising of the sun (Mk 16:2-9).

It is difficult for us to transpose the dividing times of those Hebrew days into our nights and days.

  1. Because, the dividing line between Hebrew days, is when our day’s end turns to night, yet night keeps the same name.
  2. Our unfamiliarity with the uses of the Hebrew day form natural struggles with the time and placement of the key events of the Hebrew days that tell of the what, when, and where of the last days of Jesus.
  3. It becomes necessary to learn and feel comfortable talking about how a Hebrew day began at twilight. For example: Outside, when the twilight of stars appear as Friday evening, our Friday night begins. But, a Hebrew Saturday Sabbath began at the moment the twilight of stars began to appear on our Friday night. God said, Let there be "lights" in the expanse of the heaven to divide the day from the night. (Gen 1:14-18 & 1:31-2:3).
  • Josephus tells us, “He divided the light from the darkness, calling the latter night and the former day and naming the morning and the evening the dawn of light and its cessation“ (Ant. 1.1.27-28).
  • Josephus said what evening was: “They blew the horn at the beginning of the seventh day Sabbath, in the evening twilight, and also at the end of the Sabbath” (Wars 4.9.12): As if to say, “They blew the horn when the preparation day ended, in the dark of evening” (Ant. 1.1.27-28 & Lk 24:54-56).

This would be where Sabbath drew on ἐπιφωσκούση of Lk 23:54 fits in. Schrevelius' Greek Lexicon, 1826, pg. 338, left col., 5th entry, refers to ἐπιφωσκούση: "the corresponding word in Syriac is also applied to the evening preceding any day." and, means "to draw near, Mt 28:1;" When Schrevelius refers to the Jews reckoning their days from sunset, he isn't saying the Bible reckons it so. (Reread Josephus above on the evening twilight. Josephus is a Jew. He appears to know the difference between the tradition of sunset and what the Bible says (Gen 1:14)).

The Sabbath drew near ἐπιφωσκούση, so the women of the cross rested on the Sabbath to keep the commandment (Lk 23:54-56). Perhaps it's clear Schrevelius agrees with Josephus, about the twilight of the evening being the cessation of light, the time between the Preparation day and the Sabbath day, the evening drawn into the night: the change of days was at hand. After Friday evening, the third day of Jesus' death began—the Sabbath day.

Late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn ἐπιφωσκούση into the first day of the week, Mt 28:1 (the onset of the change of days). The context of it shows: After Saturday evening, after 3-1/2 days of his death (Mk 8:31), on the first day of the week, in one of four watches of the night, Jesus rose from death to life—before the women, who followed him from Galilee (Lk 23:47-24:1) arrived in the dark of night, before Sunday morning, to their disappointing anguish, to not find Jesus wrapped and still laying in his tomb (Jn 20:1). It must still be Saturday night, when the women of Galilee returned to summon Peter and John, saying, "They have taken away the Lord away from the tomb, and 'we' do not know where they have laid him!" (Lk 24:1-12 & Jn 20:1-2), because when they returned (Jn 20:10-18), they found Jesus and embraced him, at the rising of the sun (Mk 16:1-2 & v9, Mt 28:8-9 & Lk 23:47-24:1 (not just Mary Magdalena)).

The context of Lk 23:54-56 is to show the time between (drawn near) the Preparation day and the Sabbath day: The passing of the Preparation day was evening turned into the night of the Sabbath. One day later, the context of Mt 27:62-28:1 is to show the time between (drawn near) the Sabbath day and the first day of the week. The passing of the Sabbath day (Mk 16:1) was evening turned into the night of the first day of the week, when the women of Galilee came to the empty tomb. There is a nighttime between Mk 16:1 & Mk 16:2, and between Jn 20:1-2 & Jn 20:10-18.

Thus the "Sabbath Dawning" of our question shows: The Greek word ἐπιφωσκούση for dawn in Mt 28:1, doesn’t mean, at the light of day. It is used one other NT time, as night was about to begin (Lk 23:54). Mk 16:1 agrees with Lk 23:54: At the passing of the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, having bought sweet spices, came to anoint Jesus. The passing of the Sabbath is the evening turned into the night.

Many agree πρωï Strong's 4404 means morning in an absolute way. Overlooked by many is that it also means the fourth of four watches of darkness: the night, based on its surrounding supportive context, regardless of what translators have devised for print.

Here are Scriptures where context overrules and defies πρωï to mean dawn, but defines the fourth watch of night: Mk 1:35, πρωï, Before daybreak; 13:35, πρωï, Describing the four watches of the night; and Jn 20:1, πρωï, John describing "it was still dark at the empty tomb," justifying πρωï also means the fourth of four watches of the night. Thayer's Lexicon and Blue Letter agree with this.

Both Mk 16:1 & Jn 20:1 agree: Jesus rose early, πρωï, on the first day of the week. . . and, The first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early, πρωï—when it was still dark, to the sepulcher, and saw the stone taken away from the sepulcher (Mary Magdalene and the women crossed Mt. Olive four times on first day of the week: From Bethany to the tomb and back (Jn 20:1-2), and again, from Bethany to the tomb and back (v10-18), four times on the first day of the week, beginning at night). Both Mk 16:1 & Jn 20:1 agree with Mt 28:1, as a dawning into the first day of the week, at the passing of the Sabbath (the beginning of nightfall, like Lk 23:54-56, the same hour—a day before). Of course, these statements can be found harmonious to answer our question, How should "Sabbath Dawning" be Interpreted?

Lk 24:1-3 says, Upon the first day of the week, very early, they (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (and others of Galilee; 23:47-24:1)) returned to the sepulcher, and (24:22-24), they were early, πρωï at the sepulcher, but did not find the body. They told Peter, “Someone removed Jesus.” Something else that tells which visit it was, is whether sorrow or joy ended which tomb visit of the women, to go tell the disciples their news. Sorrow ends the first visit of not finding Jesus, but joy ends the second, after Mary Magdalena and the other women see and embrace him.

Luke has the first visit. John has both visits. Neither Matthew nor Mark note two visits but tell of the women in the tomb with an angel inside the tomb, rediscussing Jesus has risen. They note the second visit by the risen sun, Jesus being seen by the women, their joyful second visit embraces by Mary Magdelena, and the other women, and joyful news to tell Jesus’ disciples. Matthew and Mark tell of the second visit, after Jesus was seen in the daylight.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke of it in this way to Jesus, not knowing it was him, "But also some women from among us astonished us, who were at the tomb early, πρωï, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive! And some of those with us went out to the tomb and found it like this, just as the women had also said, but they did not see him.” (Lk 24:22-24 & Jn 20:1-2).

So, if you don't believe John 20:1-2 sets the nighttime as the discovery time of the empty tomb, maybe you can believe the Greek word ἐπιφωσκούση for dawning in Mt 28:1, to mean, not at the light of day, but to be at the onset of night, like the one other NT time of its use of ἐπιφωσκούση, in Lk 23:54 to say, we know the night of Sabbath was near.

Is it arguable that ἐπιφωσκούση in Lk 23:54 means the beginning of a Sabbath sunset was approaching? That would be something many can read and write books about, but few can see. That question's answer would come from a learning about between the evenings, in the Bible margin of Lev 23:5, and the margin of Ex 12:6. The latter of these two evenings is Ex 12:18, the change of days: God's evening of Genesis. A view confirming, Lk 23:54 doesn't mean the beginning of a Sabbath sunset was approaching.

The sunset, as the divider of nights and days, is unnatural to and is insensible to suggest that each day unnaturally contains two daytimes and one nighttime: There is almost an hour of daylight after sunset; add the nighttime, and after the nighttime, add another daytime divided by the daytime sunset. This is very unlike Gen 1:14, where the Nautical Twilight, or lights of heaven, divide night and day. Sunset evenings are found in both the Old and New Testaments (Mt 20:8), but not as a divider of days.

Conclusion:

Careful consideration arguably substantiates the answer of Luke 23:54 - How should "Sabbath Dawning" be Interpreted? may be answered in sheer simplicity, by merely observing and harmonizing the Biblical context of Luke and Matthew's statements: Who they were talking about, and what they were doing, before introducing they finished their work before day's end, waiting for the day's end to draw on (ἐπιφωσκούση, to become dusk)?

In Lk 23, Luke notes three things that happened that day before the Sabbath drew on, and one event for when the Sabbath arrived:

  1. Joseph from Arimathea approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it to place him in a tomb.
  2. And the women who had been accompanying him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was placed.
  3. And they returned and prepared fragrant spices and perfumes. And it was the day of preparation, and the Sabbath was drawing near: The evening was turning to night (Gen 1:14).
  4. The women who followed Jesus from Galilee rested on the Sabbath.

In Matthew's account, he talks about the event that preceded the first day of the week, and the near events as it started:

  1. The Chief Priests and Pilate's soldiers set a guard over the tomb, to wait for day's end, to "guard the tomb against the third day (that night)." Breaking the Sabbath.
  2. And, Late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week (ἐπιφωσκούση, getting dusk. The Sabbath doesn't end at dawn), Mary Magdalene and the other women came to the tomb (Mt 28:1 doesn't say when). But Jn 20:1-2 does. It was in the fourth watch of the night.
  3. Mk 16:1 agrees with Mt 28:1: When the Sabbath was past the women of the tomb thought that they might come and anoint him, and began to do so. Do we see the nighttime between Mk 16:1 & Mk 16:2, when Mary Magdalene and the other women came to the tomb? The dawning toward the first day of the week was evening turned to night.
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  • I don't know what lexicon you're using. Epifosken literally means breaking of dawn or light φως. It never means night or evening. The ref says Day was Friday and Sabbath was (just) beginning. I didn't check other references but seems they must be wrong too. biblegateway.com/passage/…
    – Michael16
    Feb 26, 2023 at 5:55
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    Do you think, the Sabbath drawing near ἐπιφωσκούση, for "the women to keep the Sabbath" (Lk 23:56), "never means night or evening" (Lk 23:54-56)? I gave a reference in my answer—to your question: Josephus said “They blew the horn at the beginning of the seventh day Sabbath, in the evening twilight, and also at the end of the Sabbath” (Wars 4.9.12). And, Schrevelius' Greek Lexicon, 1826, pg. 338, refers to, "the corresponding word in Syriac also applies to any evening." and, "means to draw near," in the same text. This Lexicon was written before the critical era began.
    – Robert
    Feb 26, 2023 at 7:29
  • I agree about Luke 23:54 the word could mean the evening lightening of lamps or just evening start ie Sabbath eve. But elsewhere when the Matt 28:1 John 20:1 Luke 24:1 (clearly describes early morning of Sunday, after the Sabbath) you are confusing them to be the same, implying that the resurrection was at Sunday evening ; and implying that Sabbath is on the first day of the week (Sunday). Luke 23:54 is an exception to the word, elsewhere it simply means the normal dawning of day, not evening.
    – Michael16
    Feb 26, 2023 at 10:26
  • And God said, Let there be "lights" in the expanse of the heaven to divide the day from the night.
    – Robert
    Feb 26, 2023 at 16:36
  • Wed., Mk 14:12-16; Thu., v17-15:4; Fri., 15:42-47; Sat., Lk 23:56 & Mt 27:62-66; Sun., Jn 20:1-19.
    – Robert
    Feb 26, 2023 at 16:45

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