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Matthew 28:1 "As It Began to Dawn ..."

A friend recently came to understand (I think quite correctly) a different understanding of Matthew 28:19-20 that comes from a minor change in the point where the verses change.

The original King James Version seems to support the trinity:
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matt 28:19)
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt 28:20)

Remember, there was no punctuation in the original texts; that was added much later along with the chapter and verse divisions and even the distinction between upper and lower cases. With a very minor change in the punctuation, the verses become:

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, (Matt 28:19)
The Holy Ghost teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt 28:20)

We don't know what he believed on the trinity question but perhaps Robert Estienne, who assigned the verse numbers in the 16th century, was just getting tired as he was finishing up the gospel of Matthew.

Well, it turns out he may have made a similar error at the start of Matthew 28. My research into the timing of the resurrection has led me to consider all the related passages pretty carefully and I came across this:

Original King James Version:

"So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. (Matt 27:66)
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." (Matt 28:1)

This suggests that the guard was posted about 24 hours after the burial which makes no sense at all. The disciples, at least 11 strong men, could have moved the stone at night, taken the body, replaced the stone and then claimed a resurrection the next day, the day following or whenever. Investigation would have shown an empty tomb. That is exactly what the Jewish leaders feared. Surely, they were smart enough to not give the disciples that opportunity. They had said "lest his disciples come by night and steal him away" - they didn't specify which night they were concerned about.

Incidentally, as we traditionally read the verse, it is a point in favor of a dawn-to-dawn day: "the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn." The "as" suggests the end of the Sabbath and dawn are happening at the same time.

Compare the traditional verse numbering to this:

"So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch in the end of the sabbath. (Matt 27:66)
As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." (Matt 28:1)

The underlined words then become part of a different verse and even a different chapter. At first, with the usual understanding of the words, this seems to raise another problem as the watch is still not set until the end of the sabbath which (whenever that is) would still give the disciples one night of opportunity to steal the body.

Letting the Bible define its own terms is helpful and often essential for correct understanding. There are two issues with that in this passage. First, the phrase "the first day of the week" should be translated more like "one of the sabbaths" as are most cases of the underlying Greek words. So, in our system, the reference is to the Sabbath (actually sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, commonly just called Saturday) and not to the first day of the week (Sunday). Second, the word "end" in "end of the sabbath" is the Greek word "opse" (Strong's G3796) of which there are two other Biblical uses:

"And when even was come, he went out of the city." (Mark 11:19)

That verse sounds like it could be the evening as in after sunset but is not definitive. However, the other use is definitely a reference to a part of the night:

"Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:" (Mark 13:35)

Even, midnight, the cockcrowing and the morning are terms for the four watches of the night according to the Roman system as then used in Palestine.

In the case we are looking at in Matthew, if "opse" is translated as "even/evening" as in the verses above, it would then become a reference to "the evening of the sabbath" - Friday evening shortly after the burial which makes more sense when the underlying words translated as "first day of the week" are also correctly translated. A great concern of the Jewish authorities was that the disciples would steal the body and claim a resurrection; the guard would have been posted right away to avoid any theft of the body. The passage also then lines up with the evening-to-evening determination of days.

Here is a rendering taking into account the correct translations:

"So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch in the evening of the sabbath. (Matt 27:66)
As it began to dawn on the first of the sabbaths, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." (Matt 28:1)

Obviously, as late as the 16th century, many errors in understanding scripture had crept in. Some of these could easily have resulted in the division of Biblical verses being incorrect. Conversely, errors in breaking the Biblical text into verses have also led to errors in understanding.

Here we have two cases pretty much within one chapter. I wonder how many others there might be and how many misunderstandings of scripture there are because of something as simple as how the Bible was divided into verses.  



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