Are there contradictions in the time the women went to the tomb?

by Rob Lundberg

Continuing on the series on what happened at the tomb, another skeptic tells me that there is a problem with what the gospel writers record with reference to the time of day when the women arrived at the tomb of Jesus. Whenever critics of the Bible see one account differing from another in wording or phrasing, they are quick to point out that the gospel writers cannot be in agreement with one another.

This post is going to demonstrate that there really is no problem, and that there are no contradictions between the writers. 

Again my approach to this objection will follow the previous post.  First I will set up the problem by summarizing the objection.  From there I will provide an answer demonstrating that there really are no discrepancies with the writers of each of the writers affected by the objection.

Please bear in mind, that all throughout the responses that I will give in this series, that the writers of the gospels were granted their personalities in their writing. They were not robots having their hands dragged along by some invisible force; nor were they receiving a dictation on what to write from an outside “Force.” 

Summarizing the Objection

Whenever finds a conflict or something missing in one gospel writer, the skeptic is quick on the draw to point out that there is a problem with agreement.  In this objection, there is a question in phraseology,  Let me see if I can set the table for us.

First off in Matthew’s gospel (28:1) we read that, “it began to dawn the first day…” (v.1).  Another alleged glitch noted by the skeptic is that there seems to be an issue where Mark tells us in his gospel, “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2).  The plot seems to thicken when we read, Luke and John, which appear to fall in line with Matthew.  Luke 24:1 tells us that they went “at early dawn” (v. 1). John 20:1 tells us that they went to the tomb “while it was still dark” (v. 1).

Well you might say, “But Rob, it was at least early in the morning!” But the problem for the skeptic is found with Mark’s account. Why does it seem that his terminology, “when the sun had risen” does not seem to line up with the other gospel writers?  Here is my response.


By definition, “dawn” is the moment which marks the beginning of the twilight before sunrise. It is recognized by the presence of weak sunlight, while the sun itself is still below the horizon. Dawn should not be confused with sunrise, which is at the moment when the leading edge of the sun itself appears above the horizon.

As part of my researching the answer for this objection, I found that an “astronomical dawn” is defined by as “the time when the geometric center of the Sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon. Before this time, the sky is absolutely dark..” (Source:, “Twightlight, Dawn and Dusk)

Bearing these factors in mind, dawn by the given definitions, is definitely before sun up (Matthew’s gospel). Dawn can be considered right at the “crack of dawn” (Luke’s gospel). John’s gospel states “while it was still dark outside.” Dawn is not sunrise, so therefore it is safe to consider that there may be more darkness than daylight in that moment of John’s gospel.

There is another thought to this as well. Some might have a conflict with Mark’s phrase “after sun up.” The issue with the English text is that it gives the assumption that the Sun is already up, but the Greek NT gives a participial form of the verb Mark 16:2, “at the rising” (anatailantos). This phrase “at the rising” means that the sun is still not completely risen.

This then would agree with the other gospel writers and thus we can conclude that the English translations of Mark 16:2 would be better rendered “at the rising of the sun“. Therefore, there is no  contradiction between any of the Garden Tomb accounts by the gospel writers in this objection.

Please feel free to interact with anything that you read in this series or anything else you see on this blog.  I welcome any questions you may have as I would enjoy visiting with you and helping you with your questions or your sharing your thoughts.

Check out the Other Posts Related to this Series

Do The Gospel Accounts Contradict Who Went to Jesus’ Grave?



robgoodgravatarRob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a confused, chaotic, “brave new world.”

He is available to come and speak to your church, college club, or group. Find out what people are saying.  If you would like to support this ministry with a one time or monthly gift, you can do that by clicking here

If you would like to book Rob for a speaking event, you can do so by emailing him at    If you have other questions about apologetics or doing apologetics, or if you are looking for apologetics resources, contact our ministry by email.


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