June 1, 1997 Issue
by Carl M. Johnson

Occasionally I am confronted by brethren who insist the communion service must be observed on Saturday night. Recently a brother gave me an eight page pamphlet he received in the mail making this argument. The author’s argument is based on his contention that Jesus was resurrected on Saturday night (according to the way we calculate time) hence, we must observe the Lord’s supper on Saturday night. The writer says:

        Some groups of us have made an exhaustive study of the resurrection moment
        of Jesus and the time to eat the Lord’s supper... Know this for certain, Jesus 
        did not resurrect on a Sunday morning. Jesus resurrected some six hours before
        Sunday begins... If Jesus didn’t resurrect on a Sunday morning, then where will 
        we get our authority for a breakfast time, Sunday morning Lord’s supper?

It is true the Jews calculated each day to begin at 6 o’clock in the evening. Moses says of the sabbath, "From even unto even, shall you keep your sabbath" (Lev 23:32). When the passover feast was instituted, the Jews were instructed to begin at evening and to eat unleavened bread from the evening of the 14th day, the beginning of the 15th day of the month, and continue to the evening of the 21st day (Ex. 12:1-15). In the New Testament there are also statements implying the writers of scripture count days beginning with the evening. The demoniac who confronts Jesus and His disciples in Gadara is said to have been "night and day" in the mountains and in the tombs (Mark 5:5). Paul says he spent "a night and a day in the deep" (2 Cor 11:25). Although Paul lived in a Roman world he maintained his Hebrew tradition of expressing time.

The writer of the pamphlet argues that since Jewish tradition calculates the first day of the week to begin at 6 o’clock in the evening on our Saturday, and Jesus arose early upon the first day of the week, Jesus must have arisen shortly after 6 o’clock Saturday evening.

Although the writer is correct in his understanding of how the Jews calculated the time of the day, he is badly mistaken in his conclusion about the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

Mark clearly establishes the approximate time of Jesus’ resurrection. He says the women came to Jesus’ tomb "very early in the morning on the first day of the week... at the rising of the sun" (16:2). The phrase "very early in the morning" is translated from the Greek word proi . The Analytical Greek Lexicon defines this word to mean "in the morning, early...; the morning watch, which ushers in the dawn, Mar 13:35" (355). Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich say the word means "early, early in the morning" (732). Thayer defines the term as "early, pertaining to the morning" (554). Of course Mark makes the meaning of the word "early" unquestionably clear in verse 2 when he adds, "at the rising of the sun."

Later, Mark uses the identical Greek word proi to establish the time of Jesus’ resurrection, "Now when Jesus was risen early (proi) the first day of the week..." (16:9). Marshall linear Greek-English New Testament translates this phrase, "And rising early on the first day of the week..." (215). Putting verses 2 and 9 together, Mark shows the expression "early on the first day of the week" does not refer to a time shortly after 6 o’clock Saturday evening, but rather the expression refers to a time around sunrise.

The other evangelists agree with Mark’s time frame. Luke says, "Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre..." (24:1). John adds, "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre" (20:1). The expression "yet dark" means it had been dark for some time and was still yet dark. Such a statement could not have been made if the women had come shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday.

Matthew’s parallel account is the only statement offering any difficulty. He says, "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" (28:1). Some people argue that Matthew is saying the women came to the tomb late on the sabbath day. If that is what Matthew is saying, the women must have made two trips to the tomb, one late on the sabbath and one early Sunday morning, or Matthew contradicts the other gospel writers. It is unlikely, however, that the women made two trips to the tomb. If the women came to the tomb late on the sabbath, they did not rest on the sabbath as Luke 23:56 reports they did.

The only way Matthew’s account harmonizes with the other three evangelists is to understand his phrase "in the end of the sabbath" to mean "after the sabbath." The NIV translates the verse "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week..." This translation is supported by W.E. Vine (312); Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (606); and the Analytical Greek Lexicon (207). Thayer translates the phrase to mean, "the sabbath having just passed, after the sabbath, i.e. at the early dawn of the first day of the week—(an interpretation absolutely demanded by the added specification "as it began to dawn...") cf. Mark 16:1" (471).

The writers of the gospels agree unanimously that the women came to the tomb about sunrise Sunday morning. Since Mark uses the identical expression to point out the time of Jesus’ resurrection, we must conclude Jesus arose from the grave at early dawn Sunday morning.

If we must commune at the precise time of Jesus’ resurrection, the communion would have to be observed around dawn on Sunday morning and not just after 6 o’clock Saturday night. I have found no teaching in the Bible, however, that mandates our observing the communion at the same moment of the day as Jesus’ resurrection. On the contrary, Luke says simply the disciples came together to break bread "upon the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7).

As mentioned earlier, the first day of the week, as that expression occurs in the New Testament, begins at 6 p.m. Saturday and ends at 6 p.m. Sunday. If the Lord’s supper is observed any hour during that period, it will be observed on the first day of the week. Whether you insist on observing the Jewish mode of keeping time, or whether you follow the Roman method and figure the beginning of Sunday at midnight, the sides can agree upon as being the "first day of the week."

In my judgment, we have the scriptural right to observe the Lord’s supper anytime after 6p.m. Saturday, however, we do not have the right to bind our preference upon others and require them to go along with us. When we compel others to conform to our preference we make a law where the Lord has not made one. To cause trouble over such personal preferences is to cause "strife, seditions, and heresies" (Gal 5:20).

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