THE PASSOVER THAT CHANGED THE WORLD PART 2 BY RABBI BARUCH
Conflict #6 Did Either One of the Two Thieves Repent?
This apparent conflict is a great example of the second criteria listed under Methodology on page one, “if there is a conflict between two or more textual accounts, can this conflict be explained in a reasonable manner”? Individuals have pointed out that in the Synoptic Gospels account there were two thieves who were crucified on each side of Yeshua. Matthew and Mark report that both thieves mocked and reviled Yeshua. There is no statement within these two Gospels that either one of them repented. However in Luke’s Gospel one reads,
eiV de twn kremasqentwn kakourgwn eblasfhmei auton legwn, ouci su ei o cristoV; swson seauton kai hmaV. apokriqeiV de o eteroV epitimwn autw efh, oude fobh su ton qeon, oti en tw autw krimati ei; kai hmeiV men dikaiwV, axia gar wn epraxamen apolambanomen: outoV de ouden atopon epraxen. kai elegen, ihsou, mnhsqhti mou otan elqhV eiV thn basileian sou. kai eipen autw, amhn soi legw, shmeron met emou esh en tw paradeisw.
“And one of the criminals who had been hung (on a cross), blaspheme Him saying, if you are the Messiah, save Yourself and us. But the other one answered rebuking him (the other criminal) saying, Do you not fear G-d, because in the same condemnation are you? And we indeed justly, for it is proper that we receive this act, but this One has done nothing wrong. And he said, Yeshua, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom. And He (Yeshua) said to him, truly I say to you, today with Me you shall be in paradise. Lk.23:39-43
Is there a possible and reasonable explanation to this conflict? Yes. It can easily be explained by the fact that at first both criminals did in fact mock and revile Yeshua, but after seeing how Yeshua dealt with those people who were shouting insults and mocking Him and hearing Yeshua say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk.23:34), it could be that the one criminal repented and made the request that Luke records in the fore mentioned passage. People do say things and then wish to retract them.
This explanation removes any conflict between the Gospel accounts. The question that one should ask is why Mark and Matthew do not include the account of the repentant criminal? One must remember that there is a reason why G-d inspired four accounts of the Gospels. This reason is to reveal additional truth about the same situation. When one considers the primary theme of Matthew’s Gospel, the suffering Messiah as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy it is not surprising that Messiah is present upon the cross at totally rejected. However Luke’s Gospel focuses on Messiah as the Savior of the world; therefore it is not surprising that even within the climax of Yeshua’s rejection, that there is message of salvation.
Although the Gospels are inspired by G-d and without error, they do reflect the personalities of their authors. In no way does this fact undermine their authority. As in any eye witness account, individuals are going to emphasize different aspects of the same event. Some will chose to ignore things that others feel are central to the event. In the end, the reader the reader has a fuller understanding of G-d’s revelation to man.
This explanation of the nature of Gospels is a good introduction for the next conflict.
Conflict #7 What were the Last Words of Yeshua?
Once again those who desire to attack the validity of the New Testament miss the essence of Scripture. While Yeshua hung on the cross He did speak from time to time. In Matthew and Mark Yeshua’s statement from Psalm 22 is recorded as the last words that He spoke. While Luke records Yeshua’s statement, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit” as His final utterance. Finally John states, “It is finished” was the final sentence that came from Yeshua.
However, what needs to be realized is that none of the Gospels ever assert that the last words they attribute to Yeshua were in fact His “last words”. Rather these words were only the last ones that the Gospel wanted to leave the reader with prior to Yeshua death. Once again Matthew’s and Mark’s desire to emphasize the rejection of Yeshua influenced them to record the words they did. Luke wanting to stress the inherent relationship between Yeshua and G-d leaves the reader with the statement about Yeshua committing His Spirit to His Father. John, who dedicated nearly half of His Gospel to events of Passover, uses Yeshua’s statement about one of the laws of Passover to end Yeshua’s testimony on the cross.
One can be assured that Yeshua said all these statement while on the cross, shortly before He died. Which one of these statements were the last? For the purpose of revelation, this question is not relevant. What is relevant is the theological message that each of these statement make when they are consider as Yeshua’s “final words”. Once again if any of the Gospel writers wrote, “The last words of Yeshua were….”, then there world be a conflict.
So often the conflicts on which individuals comment stem from a failure to realize that Scripture is not intended to be a chronological historical writing. Rather Scripture is a literary work and employs well known literary devices to convey truth and reveal theological concepts that historical writings could not. Again, this is not to say that the Bible is not historically accurate, because it is historically accurate! But because Scripture uses events to help the reader understand and interpret its testimony, one may read of an event in one Gospel taking place within one context and that same event taking place within a different context and period of time within another Gospel. Because the Gospels and for that matter the rest of the Bible does not ever assert to be a chronological account, such literary tools should not be used to attack the validity of the testimony of Scripture. In fact these literary assist the Bible reveal its truth.
In is not surprising that the events surrounding the resurrection, the foundation of Gospel, receives most of the attacks from those who desire to undermine the authenticity of the New Testament. The additional conflicts that the rest of this study will engage in, all have to do with events after the death of Yeshua.
Conflict #8 Who Prepared the Spices for Yeshua’s Burial… and When?
The issue of the spices is central in assisting the reader to understand the proper time line for many of the events surrounding the burial and resurrection of Yeshua. Critics of the New Testament assert that Mark’s and Luke’s Gospel state that it was Mary that prepared the spices for Yeshua’s burial, while John’s Gospel state Nicodemus prepared spices prior to the Shabbat. To add to the confusion, Mark states Mary prepared the spices after the Shabbat and Luke agrees with Mark that it was Mary who prepared the spices, but says she did so before Shabbat. Sounds confusing? Not at all, there is a simple solution to these apparent contradictions which also will play a role in solving the question of how long was Yeshua in the tomb.
These contradictions can be solved by understanding two things. One, there were two separate occasions that spices were prepared. Secondly, the term Shabbat can be used for the first day of Unleavened Bread as well as the normal seventh day Sabbath. In considering the issues of “who prepared the spices?” it is clear that from John’s Gospel that Yeshua died on the fourteenth of Nissan, shortly before sundown.
oi oun ioudaioi, epei paraskeuh hn, ina mh meinh epi tou staurou ta swmata en tw sabbatw, hn gar megalh h hmera ekeinou tou sabbatou, hrwthsan ton pilaton ina kateagwsin autwn ta skelh kai arqwsin.
“Therefore the Jews (Judeans) * since it was preparation, in order that the body did not remain upon the cross on the Shabbat, for it was Great (day) that day of Shabbat, they asked Pilate in order that they break their legs and they be lifted (from the cross).
Therefore the Shabbat that John is referring to is not the seventh day Shabbat, but the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is treated as Shabbat with all of its restrictions. A dead body which is not buried presents a problem in regard to Jewish law; this explains why the Jewish leaders came to request that the legs of those who were crucified to be broken, as to speed up the dying process. So they could be buried.
This verse makes it clear that time was an element in regard to burring Yeshua. The Synoptic Gospels state that a just and righteous man, who was a disciple of Yeshua named Joseph came and requested from Pilate the body of Yeshua, in order to bury Him. Joseph was a Jewish city called Arimathaea. John’s Gospel also states these facts, but also includes that another man, Nicodemus came and joined Joseph and assisted in the burial. John also informs that Nicodemus brought spices (see John 19:39-40)
* The term “Jews” literally “Judeans” does not refer to the Jewish people in general, rather a small group of Jewish leaders.
Since Joseph and Nicodemus took the body of Yeshua and wound it in linen cloths with spices according to Jewish custom (see Jn.19:40), then why did Mary and the women also prepare spices and when was this actually done? Luke’s Gospel which offers the most information about the women and the spices states,
kai hmera hn paraskeuhV, kai sabbaton epefwsken. katakolouqhsasai de ai gunaikeV, aitineV hsan sunelhluquiai ek thV galilaiaV autw, eqeasanto to mnhmeion kai wV eteqh to swma autou, upostreyasai de htoimasan arwmata kai mura. kai to men sabbaton hsucasan kata thn entolhn,
“And (the) day was preparation, and the Shabbat was commencing. And the women were following closely, since they had come from Galilee with Him, gazed upon the tomb and how His body was laid, and they returned and prepared spice and ointment, but rested on the Shabbat according to the commandment.” Lk.23:54-56
Once again the Scripture makes it clear that it was on the fourteenth day of Nissan that Yeshua died and was buried. This all took place moments before Shabbat law went into effect for the first day of Unleavened Bread. Luke’s Gospel uses epefwsken (was commencing) to emphasize how close the Shabbat was when Yeshua was buried (see Lk.23:54). It is safe to say that Joseph and Nicodemus had to hurry to complete the burial before Shabbat. The next verse (Lk.23:55) states the women (including Mary) saw the tomb and “the manner His body was laid“.
The “manner” wV His body was laid is stressed in the Greek text. It is clearly stated that the women saw not only the place, i.e. tomb; but also how (the manner) Joseph and Nicodemus laid Him. The next word in the text is upostreyasai, referring to the women who returned and prepared spices and ointments. An important question has to be answered. If the women saw that Yeshua was buried and spices were used, then why did they also prepare spices? The answer is that they saw how Yeshua was buried and this caused them to prepare spices themselves. Why? Perhaps they were not satisfied with the manner that the men buried Yeshua. Could it be that because the men had to hurry to complete the job before the Festival of Unleavened Bread began, that the women decided to improve the burial at a later time? Therefore it is not conflict on whether it was Nicodemus or the women who prepared the spices. Both Nicodemus and the women prepared spices, but for different times.
Now the question “when were the spices prepared” has to be addressed. In regard to the spices that Nicodemus brought, they were prepared before Yeshua was buried on the fourteenth of Nissan. Nicodemus may very well not have prepared any spices, but only had access to them and brought them with him to the tomb. The women however, prepared themselves. The question is when?
Mark’s Gospel states prior to the Shabbat, while Luke says after the Shabbat. How can this be? Very simple, to which Shabbat is each Gospel writer referring? First of all Mark does not inform the reader when the spices were prepared, only when they were brought to the tomb (after Shabbat). The confusion can be easily cleared by realizing exactly what Luke’s Gospel actually states.
First of all, the Gospel of John informs the reader that Joseph and Nicodemus had to hurry to complete the burial before Shabbat, the first day of Unleavened Bread. They began this process as the Shabbat was commencing with the women observing them (see Mt.27:61, Mk.15:40, and Lk.23:55). Luke 23:56 emphasize that the women were observant of Jewish law and according to the Torah commandment the rested on the Shabbat, kai to men sabbaton hsucasan kata thn entolhn. To which Shabbat is this text referring? The answer is the normal seventh day Shabbat and not the first day of Unleavened Bread.
The reader as already been informed that after Yeshua was buried there was no time available to do anything but observe the Passover Seder. Imagine what it would have been like for the disciples and the women who now partook of the Seder meal, reflecting on what Yeshua had tried to teach them the previous night at the “Last Supper”.
Luke in his narrative states, “And they returned and prepared spices and ointment…” Lk.23:56, when did this occur? Luke is not speaking about returning from the tomb after Yeshua was buried. Rather Luke is referring to the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread. Hence the women, when they left the tomb, would have observed the Passover Seder that evening and not done any work until after sundown the next day. With this in mind, the preparing of spices and ointment would have occurred on the sixteenth of Nissan.
The work that is required to prepare spices and ointment for a proper burial is not simple. One need to remember that the women who took part in this were not from Jerusalem, but the Galilee and would have been required to acquire all the necessary ingredients. This takes time. It would have been impossible for them to have done this prior to Shabbat law going into effect on the Seder evening. Therefore the women would have waited until the sixteenth of Nissan to begin the process of acquiring all the ingredients and doing all the work required in the actual preparation. Once again this preparation takes time. Luke therefore is informing the reader that although the women completed their work there was not enough time left on the sixteenth of Nissan to go to the tomb and accomplish the work they intended. So Luke writes, “And rested on the Shabbat (seventh day Shabbat) according to the commandment.” (Lk.23:56).
Did the women prepare the spices and ointment before or after the Shabbat? The answer is yes! If one is speaking about the Shabbat of the first day of Unleavened Bread, then it is after. However, if one is speaking about the seventh day Shabbat, then the answer is before. This explanation is central in dealing with the next conflict.
Conflict #9 How Many Days was Yeshua in the Tomb?
Yeshua stated that as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so would the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (Mt. 12:40). Although numerous critics have said this was not fulfilled by Yeshua and others have defended it some most creative ways. The fact is that there is no conflict at all concerning Yeshua’s statement and the Gospel witness. This apparent conflict only surfaces because of Church tradition.
Church tradition says that Yeshua was crucified on a Friday. In fact this day is known as “Good Friday” in many spectrums of Christianity. The basis for this tradition which has been previously stated in this study is that there was a rush to remove the bodies from the tomb and bury them before Shabbat began. The Church assume that the Shabbat to which the Scriptures were referring was the seventh day Shabbat, hence Yeshua would have been crucified and died in fact on a Friday. However this is not the case, the Shabbat that the Scripture is speaking of is called in John’s Gospel a “High” or “Great Shabbat” hn gar megalh h hmera ekeinou tou sabbatou . John is attempting to inform the reader that it was not a seventh day Shabbat, but the first day of Unleavened Bread.
This means that Yeshua was placed in the tomb at the beginning of evening, the conclusion of the fourteenth of Nissan * The Seder was observed that evening and no work could have been done until the conclusion of the fifteenth of Nisan. At the conclusion of the fifteenth of Nissan Yeshua would have been in the tomb for one complete day.
It has already be stated that women acquired the ingredients for the spices and ointment on the sixteenth on Nissan, but did not have enough time to utilize the spices and ointment because the seventh day Shabbat was approaching. Hence with the beginning of Shabbat, at sundown Yeshua has completed two full days in the Tomb.
After the Shabbat is completed Yeshua has completed His third full day and rises from the dead. One must be careful not to confuse Scriptural facts with Church traditions and what has been widely accepted and understood (see page one under Methodology ). Tradition has the resurrection of Yeshua taking place early in the morning on the first day of the week. However, Scripture says that when the tomb was visited early on the first day of the week that Yeshua had already risen. The tradition of the resurrection taking place early in the morning of the first day of the week is not supported in the Biblical texts that deal with the resurrection accounts. Hence Yeshua rose from the dead shortly after that seventh day Shabbat was completed. It was not until the early morning that those who visited the tomb learned of the resurrection. More will be presented in regard to this issue when considering other apparent conflict. In summary, Yeshua was in fact in the tomb three days and three nights as He prophesied.
* According to Jewish law, the end of the calendar day is sundown and the evening begins the new day.
Dateline for the death, burial, and resurrection
Friday, the Ninth of Nissan: Yeshua arrives in Bethany
Shabbat, the Tenth of Nissan: Yeshua and His disciples spend Shabbat in Bethany.
Sunday, the Eleventh of Nissan: Triumphant Entry and Yeshua teaches in the Temple and on the Mt. of Olives.
Monday, the Twelfth of Nissan: Two days before Passover
Tuesday, the Thirteenth of Nissan: The disciples ask Yeshua about the arrangements for Passover.
Tuesday evening (under Jewish Law it is considered as Wednesday, the Fourteenth of Nissan: Yeshua eats the “Last Supper” and departs to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Continuation of Wednesday, the Fourteenth of Nissan: Yeshua is arrested while praying in the early hours (after midnight).
He is taken to be examined and tried. He is found guilty of blasphemy by the chief priests and Sanhedrin (early morning hours- perhaps between the hours of 2:00am to 6:00am).
He was then sent first to Pontius Pilate and then to Herod, who returned Him to Pilate for judgment. Both men were in Jerusalem and this it was Pilate who gave the orders to have Him scourged. The process began at the third hour.
The scourging, beating, and other acts of abuse continued near the noon hour when Pilate examines Yeshua an additional time. Pilate desired and tried to release Him offering the people a choice between Barabbas and Yeshua, according to the tradition of the Romans to release a prisoner before Passover. The people chose Barabbas and at the request of the people, Yeshua was crucified. This began once again near the noon time.
From the sixth hour (noon) to the ninth hour (3:00 pm) darkness was upon the land. It was during this time that the veil of the Temple (leading into the Holy of Holies) was torn in the middle from top to bottom. It was shortly after this that Yeshua gave up His Spirit and died.
His dead body hung on the cross until evening time approached. After the Jewish leaders requested that the bodies be removed, Joseph of Arimathaea came and asked for the body of Yeshua. It was Joseph of Arimathaea with the help of Nicodemus that buried Yeshua while the women looked on.
Wednesday evening (Thursday, the Fifteenth of Nissan): All Jewish people, including Yeshua’s disciples ate the Passover and observed the Seder.
Continuation of Thursday, the Fifteenth of Nissan: The people would have awoken to observe this day as a Shabbat and therefore all work is forbidden. Yeshua completes the first full day in the tomb.
Friday, the Sixteenth of Nissan: The women prepared the spices and ointment to properly complete the task that Joseph and Nicodemus had began Wednesday late afternoon. Although the women finished preparing the spices for the burial, the seventh day Shabbat approached and they observed the commandment and waited unto the first day of the week to properly prepare Yeshua’s body for burial. Yeshua completes His second full day in the tomb
Shabbat, the Seventeenth of Nissan: The Shabbat is observed by all.
When the Shabbat is over (shortly after Sundown Saturday night-according to Jewish law this is the first day of the week) Yeshua completes three full days and nights in the tomb and rises from the day.
Sunday- the first day of the week, the Eighteenth of Nissan: Yeshua rises from the dead at the beginning of this day (Saturday night). Early in the morning the tomb is visited.
A detailed study of the events of the resurrection and the apparent conflicts surrounding these events will now be presented.
Conflict #10 Does Scripture say that Yeshua resurrected in the early morning hours of the first day of the week?
If one were to ask people who had some knowledge of the New Testament, when did Yeshua rise from the dead? The overwhelming response would be early Sunday morning. Many people are shocked to find out that the Scripture does not support such a view. It is most clear from the Gospel accounts that when the tomb was visited early in the morning on the first day of the week, Yeshua already had risen.
Matthew does not report a single detail concerning the actually resurrection of Yeshua . When Matthew begins to reveal the fact the Yeshua had risen, he begins by informing the reader, NOT of the resurrection itself, but those who visited the tomb. As has already been stated, there were women, namely Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who wanted to complete the burial process of Yeshua. Matthew is clear that they arrived there in the morning as dawn was approaching.
oye de sabbatwn, th epifwskoush eiV mian sabbatwn, hlqen mariam h magdalhnh kai h allh maria qewrhsai ton tafon.
“And at the end of the Shabbat, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came, and the other Mary to see the tomb” Mt.28:1
It was prior to the women’s arrival that and earthquake shook the place. This “earthquake” was the angel of the L-rd descending from heaven. This angel was sent to roll the stone from the opening of the tomb. After completing his task, the angel sat upon the large stone which had been used to seal the tomb. Notice that the women who arrived at the tomb seeking Yeshua did not see the angel at this moment. They first spoke to the angel who informed them that Yeshua was not in the tomb, for He had risen. Then the angel showed them the place where Yeshua had laid.
ouk estin wde, hgerqh gar kaqwV eipen: deute idete ton topon opou ekeito.
“He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said. Come see the place where he was laid.” Mt.28:6
Many Bibles translate hgerqh with the words, “He is risen”. This is not correct. The Greek work is constructed in the aorist passive. This means that Yeshua did not rise by means of Himself, but rather He was made to rise, by G-d the Father. Although this is not proper English, the passive voice demands that the reader understand in rising from the dead, Yeshua depended upon His heavenly Father.
It was only after departing from the tomb with great joy that Yeshua met the women.
Mark, like Matthew does not tell about the resurrection itself. Mark does reveal why the women came to the tomb,
kai diagenomenou tou sabbatou maria h magdalhnh kai maria h [tou] iakwbou kai salwmh hgorasan arwmata ina elqousai aleiywsin auton.
“And when the Shabbat was complete, Mary Magdalene and Mary (the mother) of James and Salome brought spices in order that they should anoint Him” Mk.16:1
Mark also reveals that the women were concerned about the stone that had seal the tomb. Remember, they observed how Yeshua was buried and saw the large stone that was placed against the entrance. Mark tells that by the time the women arrived to the tomb, the stone had been removed. (Although Matthew tells how those who were guarding the stone feared greatly at the angel’s arrival and action, Mark does not mention this).
Luke like Mark informs the reason why the women came to the tomb. He agrees also with all the Gospels it was very early in the morning. Once again the Gospels are clear that Yeshua had already risen by the time anyone arrived to the tomb. There are some interesting details in Luke concerning the angel that rolled away the stone. Luke states that there were two “men” at the tomb. This fact and others are viewed by many as “seemingly conflicting details”. These issues will be addressed later in this study.
John only speaks of Mary coming to the tomb early that morning. There is no incident with any men or with an angel at first, rather she simply finds the stone had been rolled away and the tomb empty. She then departs to tell Peter and the disciple whom Yeshua loved. Mary did return to the tomb after Peter and the other disciple had come and gone. It is after the departure of Peter and the other disciple that Mary speaks to two angels. At this time the angels only question why she is weeping. As she turns she encounters Yeshua Who warns her not to touch Him and go tell others about His plan to ascend the G-d the Father. In examining the Gospels several additional conflicts surface.
The first conflict is: “Who did visit the tomb early that morning and was it light or still dark?
The second conflict is: “Were there an angel or angels that met the visitors or were they actually men?
The third conflict is: “Did Yeshua or the angels or the two men ever speak to the women before they returned and informed the disciples about the resurrection?
These conflicts will be addressed later in this study.
In summary of the question at hand, Yeshua did not rise from the dead early Sunday morning as many people proclaim, rather He rose prior to dawn the first day of the week. In light of His promise of being in the tomb for three days and three nights the most likely time of His resurrection would be shortly after the conclusion of the seventh day Shabbat, i.e. Saturday evening ( according to Jewish law the evening begins the next day- the first day of the week).
Conflict #11 Who did visit the tomb early that morning and was it light or still dark?
Matthew reports Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited the tomb. Mark states that it was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. Luke says that there were women. Luke does Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James who were among the women who were at the tomb and who went and told the disciples (Lk.24:10). Finally John’s Gospels mentions Mary Magdalene. Do these statements represent a conflict among the Gospels? No. Luke emphasizes that a group of women visited the tomb the morning. The fact the other Gospels only give the names of one, two, or three of the women who were part of the group does not in any way present a conflict. For example, although John tells of Mary Magdalene, he never says that only Mary Magdalene came. Likewise, Matthew and Mark include Mary, the mother of James and Salome, but they never say that Joanna was not there. Nor do they say that others could not have been present. In fact careful reading of the accounts, do reveal other women present at the tomb beyond that of those mentioned.
This is another example of why G-d inspired four different, but non conflicting Gospels. G-d wanted to reveal additional theological nuances to the reader, but in doing so there are no historical or factual conflicts.
The second part of this conflict deals with the time that the women got to the tomb. Many women did visit the tomb in the early as the scriptures state, but there are textual indicators that the women did not all travel to the tomb together, nor at the same precise time. This issue will be examined in greater detail later on in this study.
Matthew in speaking about the time of the arrival at the tomb writes,
th epifwskoush eiV mian sabbatwn
“… becoming light on the first day of the week,” Mt.28:1
Matthew chooses a word that contains the word “light” but attaches a prefix on to this word which means “near” or “upon”. He also uses a present participle to convey is his intent. This means that “it was becoming light” or “coming near to light”, but light had not shown. It has already been stated that the Greek language is most precise. Matthews employs a word with informs the reader that it was very early in the morning, just prior to dawn. It should be pointed out that in Jerusalem during this time of year, one can begin to see the darkness lessen well before 5:00 am.
Mark is less precise than Matthew and uses the phrase,
kai lian prwi th mia twn sabbatwn
“And at the very beginning of the first day of the week…” Mk.16:2
Mark uses of the word lian, which means “exceedingly” or “greatly”. It is difficult to translate it literally in to English within this context. The next word prwi means “morning”, hence the idea being presented here is exceedingly early in the morning. Whether there is light or not cannot be ascertain from this verse.
th de mia twn sabbatwn orqrou baqewV
“And on the first of the week, very early in the morning,” Lk.24:1
Luke uses the expression orqrou baqewV . The first word means “morning” and the second word mean “deep”. Most scholars say that this phrase means at the earliest dawn. That is not fully light, but the darkness is beginning to lift.
The Synoptic Gospels contain no hint at any disagreement, but John seemingly presents the biggest problem.
John’s Gospels testifies the following,
th de mia twn sabbatwn maria h magdalhnh ercetai prwi skotiaV eti oushV eiV to mnhmeion
“And the first of the week, Mary Magdalene came (at) morning darkness still being, to the tomb…” Jn.20:1
John informs the reader it was morning, but there was still darkness when Mary Magdalene “come” ercetai to the tomb. The Greek word is in the present indicative, that is, when John wrote that there remained a “morning darkness” Mary was coming to the tomb. The Synoptic Gospels use the same word but in the aorist which informs the reader that Mary was not in the process of coming to the tomb, but that she had already arrived to the tomb when other women are mentioned.
In summary of this point, one can accurately conclude that the Synoptic Gospels tells that it was at the very break of morning light, even slightly before when the women arrive at the tomb, while John’s is simply revealing that when Mary started her journey to the tomb, there was still a degree of darkness. John writes “morning darkness” to show that it was not still the thick of night. Hence the apparent conflict stems from not recognizing the nuances the Greek tense can have on the text.
They may be a better explanation in regard to this issue. It has already been stated that the women may not have all traveled together. Carefully reading of John and Mark, seems to imply that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb twice (Jn. 22:1-2, 11-18 and Mark 16:9-10) * . The first time she was in fact alone and it was dark and the second time when scripture speaks about her at the tomb there are also other women present at the tomb. This time it is later and is about dawn. This explanation will be studied in greater detail in the next conflict and provide the key hermeneutical tool for removing many of the apparent conflicts that are raised in study the resurrection accounts in the Gospels.
* One is strongly encouraged to read these verses and the context in which they are found in order to be prepared for the several next issues.