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

- 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?

  • Actually "Sabbath" is "Sabbaths" and "first day of the week" is "Sabbaths." In both cases the word σαββάτων is used. Jun 26 '16 at 13:10

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).



  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.

  • - 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 '16 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 '16 at 14:12

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.

  • +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 '17 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 '17 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 '17 at 5:28

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.

  • J. +1. Thank you, the connection to Joseph and Pilate, that evening had already come. Aug 28 '17 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 '17 at 2:54

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.

  • 1
    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 '18 at 18:26

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