There is a logical sequence to the spices: (1) Purchase (2) Prepare (3) Attempt to Use. Were it not for the reference to the Sabbath, this is what Mark and Luke report:
Purchased by Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)
Prepared by the women who had come with Him from Galilee (Luke 23:55-56)
They take the spices which had been prepared to the tomb (Luke 24:1)
Even though the sequence is present, there is a hint of uncertainty. Luke, who provides the most information, makes no mention of the purchase, and states the women were those who had come with Him from Galilee. This means Mary and Martha, who were from Bethany, did not participate. So with respect to Mark, the implication is the three women who made the purchase were part of a larger group who had come with Him from Galilee.
Within Luke's account, adding the Sabbath does not disturb the chronology:
Prepared by the women who had come with Him from Galilee
- On the Sabbath (singular) they rested
"They" [presumably the women from Galilee who did the preparation] take to the tomb.
- On the first of the Sabbaths (plural) very early.
Luke's use of the plural Sabbath to identify the time at which the women took the spices on their trip to the tomb agrees with Mark's account:
And very early on the first day of the week,
τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. (Mark 16:2)
But on the first day of the week,
τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Luke 24:1)
Neither account names the women who went to the tomb, but it is reasonable to assume each writer refers to the same women. For Mark it was the three who purchased the spices; for Luke it is the women from Galilee who prepared them. With respect to the exact number of women, the use of "they" leaves open the possibility the actual number was more than three.
Since Mark goes from Sabbath, singular in 16:1, to plural in 16:2, it is linguistically possible to insert time between Sabbath and Sabbaths. However, there is only one way to reconcile Mark's account of the purchase with Luke's chronology of preparation, and the agreement of both accounts on when the women went to the tomb:
On the Sabbath (singular) before the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchased the spices
After the crucifixion the spices were prepared by the women who had come with Him from Galilee. Then they rested on the Sabbath (singular)
On the first of the Sabbaths (plural) very early, the women who prepared the spices took them to the tomb.
Three women from Galilee purchased the spices after the Sabbath which was before the crucifixion. The Triumphal Entry likely was a Sabbath; the next day the three purchased the spices. After the crucifixion the spices were prepared and the women rested according to the command. After the Sabbaths (plural) the women went to the tomb.
Why make the purchase before the crucifixion?
Mark gives the reason for the purchase:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16:1)
These women had come Galilee with Jesus. During the journey, Jesus predicted He would die in Jerusalem. Three women believed Jesus and upon arrival the women purchased the spices in preparation for the inevitable. When the Sabbath was past, after they reached Jerusalem, they purchased spices so they might go and anoint Him.
Argument against the Sabbath before the Crucifixion
The objection to this timeline is simple: Mark has placed the statement of purchase after the crucifixion. Therefore, the Sabbath before the crucifixion should be ruled out.
Mark's first statement about the women from Galilee is parenthetic:
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (15:40-41)
The reference to ministering to Him while in Galilee it is out of place chronologically. In the narration of the Gospel, this statement which could easily and more logically be placed earlier, has been purposely placed after Jesus is dead. It establishes the pattern of referring to the women from Galilee parenthetically.
Mark's account of the journey to Jerusalem begins with Jesus telling the twelve He will be condemned to death but will rise after three days (cf. Mark 10:32-34). Unlike Matthew who records the mother of the John and James making a request to sit at His right and left hand (Matthew 20:20-21), Mark has the request coming from John and James without any reference to their mother (Mark 10:35-45).
1Despite being present and ministering to Jesus, reference to women from Galilee has been intentionally omitted until after Jesus is dead.
After arriving in Jerusalem, the first mention of any woman is the anointing at Bethany:
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him... And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. (Mark 14:1,3)
This anointing can be included in the chronology:
- The Sabbath before the crucifixion Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchase the spices to go and anoint Jesus
- Anointed by an unidentified woman at Bethany
- Prepared and Sabbath rest by the women who had come with Him from Galilee
- On the first of the Sabbaths (plural) very early, taken to the tomb
Seeing 16:1 as parenthetic allows the oil used to anoint Jesus before His death to be included in the purchase made by the three women from Galilee. Mark's explanation why the women bought the spices, "so they could go and anoint Him..." (with no statement the spices were actually taken to the tomb) is broad enough to support both actions. If the oil used to anoint was purchased, the theme of ministering to Him is continued to explain He would be anointed before His death.
Some of the women from Galilee believed Jesus would die in Jerusalem. Upon arrival, they made preparations for the inevitable. The pre-death anointing combined with the post-death preparation by the women, suggest at least three women believed He would rise from the dead and prepared to anoint Him.
1. If Salome is the mother of the Zebedee brothers, Mark's omission of her in this instance is further evidence of Mark's intent to focus attention on her only after Jesus is dead and would be additional evidence of his parenthetic intent.