Then, having returned, they prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. Bible

“prepared spices and ointments.” The women did this on Friday, the 16th of Nisan. This was after the Sabbath as Mark 16:1 says (i.e., after the special Sabbath, the 15th of Nisan and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread), and before the Sabbath (i.e., Saturday, the weekly Sabbath), as Luke 23:56 says (see commentary on Matthew 12:40).

It has been noticed by many Bible commentators that Mark 16:1 contradicts Luke 23:56, and many different explanations have been set forth to explain the “problem.” For example, some liberal theologians are comfortable saying that one of the two Gospels is wrong, but that kind of error is only human. We reject that explanation entirely.

Other commentators say the women must have bought spices twice, once before the Sabbath, then realized they did not have enough, and bought more after the Sabbath. However, in the orthodox model of death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that explanation will not work for two reasons. First, the women did not have time to buy and prepare spices after Christ’s burial, it was too close to the Sabbath, and Luke 23:56 makes it clear the women rested on the Sabbath. Secondly, the women would not have been able to buy and prepare spices after the Sabbath, Sunday morning, and still get to the grave with the prepared spices at dawn.

The real explanation is very simple. Christ was buried Wednesday afternoon, just before sunset. The women hurried home as the special Sabbath, Thursday, the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, started. On Friday the women bought and prepared the spices. Then they rested on Saturday, the regular weekly Sabbath. Then, at dawn on Sunday morning they brought the spices they had prepared to the tomb.

A key to realizing that the women could not have bought and prepared the spices between the time they saw Joseph bury Jesus without spices and when the Sabbath started that night is to realize what was involved in buying and preparing spices. Scripture says when Joseph buried Jesus the Sabbath was close and the women were still there, watching. But for the woman to buy the spices meant going into the city to the spice merchants and haggling with them over the different spices, then walking home with them. But the spice merchants would not have been open Friday night at sunset. It is a long-standing custom that merchants close early before the Sabbath because they have to go home and prepare for their own Sabbath meal and celebration. Even the shops in modern Israel close early before the Sabbath begins. But even if the women had found a spice merchant open, they would not have had the time to walk home and prepare the spices before the Sabbath began. To prepare the spices the women would pulverize them and mix them together. Then, many times, they would mix them with olive oil to bring out the aromatic aroma and so they could more easily and effectively spread them on the body. The fact that both Luke 23:56 and 24:1 specifically mention that the women had “prepared” the spices shows they did not just buy them and plan to spread them in that raw state on Jesus’ body. The point is that the women could not have bought and prepared spices on Friday evening before the Sabbath started at sunset, there just was not enough time. But neither could they have bought and prepared spices on Sunday morning because they brought the prepared spices to the tomb at dawn, which means they would have had to have bought the spices in the dark of night to have the time to prepare them and have them at the tomb around dawn, and no merchant would be open at night.

For more on the burial of Jesus and the spices, see commentaries on Matthew 27:57 and Mark 16:1.

“rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” The women rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment, and although they would have rested on both the Special Sabbath and the regular weekly Sabbath, because of the chronology we can tell that this verse in Luke refers to the regular weekly Sabbath. Mark 16:1 makes it clear that the women bought the spices after the Sabbath, but in this verse they had already bought the spices when they rested on the Sabbath, so this Sabbath is the regular weekly Sabbath, Saturday the 17th of Nisan (see commentary on Mark 16:1).

The commandment in the Law of Moses about resting on the weekly Sabbath is Exodus 20:8-10, and about resting on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is Leviticus 23:4-8. According to the Law of Moses, walking was not considered work so the women could have walked to the tomb on the Sabbath without breaking the Sabbath. However, by the time of Jesus, Jewish traditional law had imposed limits on how far a person could walk on the Sabbath without it being work. The limit was called “a Sabbath day’s journey” and was 2000 cubits, or just over one half mile (see commentary on Acts 1:12). So the women still could have “rested” on the Sabbath but still walked to the tomb (see commentary on Matt. 28:1).

Jesus’ resurrection, which would have occurred between Luke 23:56 and 24:1, is not specifically recorded.

Commentary for: Luke 23:56