Chapter 9. Which One Is Biblical? Sunrise Theory or Sunset Theory?
1. The beginning of a day is sunrise in the creation of six days
【Gen. 1:1-2】 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Because darkness was over the surface of the deep, there was only darkness, yet. There was no evening, and there was no morning. Of course, there was no day and no night, and it was still before eternity. The above verse shows the eternal condition before the creation of six days.
【Gen. 1:3-4】 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
The moment of saying, “Let there be light” is the beginning of the first day of creation. God separated the loght from the darkness, and God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” When the day and night were created for the first time, morning (sunrise) and evening (sunset) formed the boundary between day and night. As finishing the creation of the first day, it became sunset. And after spending the night, one day was completed and it became sunrise again. Bible said it was the first day.
【Gen. 1:5】 And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
In the above verse, “there was evening” means the completion of day time, and “there was morning” means the completion of night time. As the light was created in the darkness, the day began, and one day of 24 hours was completed with day and night.
2. Jewish division of day into hours
You can find a parable of the owner of the vineyard and the laborers in Matthew 20. If you look closely at the parable, you can see the custom of Jews to divide the daylight portion of the day into twelve hours.
【Matt. 20:1-12】 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. …… “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
The owner went out “early in the morning” to hire laborers to work in his vineyard; and he also went out “about the third hour,” “about the sixth and ninth hour,” and “about the eleventh hour,” to hire more workers. And “when evening camw,” he paid a denarius to the laborer who was hired at the eleventh hour, even though he was hired last worked only one hour.
Through the context of the parable, you can see the custom of Jews to divide the daylight portion of the day into twelve hours from sunrise to sunset. Sunrise is 0 o’clock, the beginning of a day.
3. The meaning of a day which appears in the linguistic habits
【Ruth 1:12-13】 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me–even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”
While they were having some dialogue, she called the coming night not as ‘tomorrow night’, but as ‘tonight’. This is because the reference point of the day is sunrise, not sunset.
【Josh. 4:1-3】 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
The word ‘tonight’ was used in this verse to mean future time. This is also because the reference point of the day is sunrise, not sunset. We can find so many cases which support that the reference point of the day is sunrise, from the linguistic habits of Jews.
4. Time system through the process of Jesus’ funeral
On the day of Jesus’ death, the disciples proceeded Jesus’ funeral very quickly in order to complete all procedures before the Sabbath. The Bible said that it was very near to the Sabbath when the funeral process was completed. It means that the time of the end of the funeral was just before the beginning of the Sabbath. Then what time was it? When the disciples finished the funeral, was it the time of sunrise or the time of sunset? If it was the time of sunrise, it means that the beginning of the day of Sabbath was the time of sunrise.
Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion at dawn (John 19:14), hung on the cross at 9 AM (Mark 15:24-25), and died around 3 PM (Matthew 27:45-46, Luke 23:44~46) It is impossible to believe that the funeral has been completed before sunset. Because it should take long time to take over Jesus’ body officially, to bring his body bact to Mark’s house politely, to have all funeral procedures according to Jewish custom, and to place the body to the new tomb.
From now on, let’s see how many procedures and processes had passed through until Jesus’ body was laid on a stone grave, and let’s confirm that it wasn’t sunset, but just before sunrise, that all the funeral procedures were completed.
【Matt. 27:57-62】 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
According to Matthew, after the fate of Jesus, Arimathea Joseph came to the place called Golgotha. After checking the death of Jesus, he went to Pilate to get the permission to take the body over. He brought Jesus’ body for the funeral, and placed it in his new tomb. Matthew did not keep a detailed record of Jesus’ funeral procedures. He did not document all the steps involved in taking over the body of Jesus. As a result, readers may misunderstand that all funerals have ended in a couple of hours. However, if you look at the contents of other Gospels comprehensively, you can see that the process of taking Jesus’ body over was very difficult and time consuming. And the process of the funeral also same.
The disciples were permitted to take over the body of Jesus. Going to the governor’s residence, requesting an interview, explaining the situation, and obtaining a permit in writing was not easy. At least, it took a lot of time to make round walking twice between Golgotha and Pilate’s office, and it took quite a while to get a document permit rather than verval permission.
【Mark 15:42-45】 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
Jesus died at about 3 pm, but according to Mark’s record, the time when Joseph of Arimathea came was already evening approached. However, because it was a crucifixion executed by public authorities, it was necessary to have a permit from Pilate to take over the body. After confirming that Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea descended from Golgotha to meet Pilate. It would not have been easy to meet the Roman governor on his own. Fortunately, he was able to meet the governor because of his position as the member of the Council. Upon receiving the request of Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate had to check whether Jesus had died already or not on the cross. Pilate sent a messenger to call the centurion who went to Golgotha, and only after hearing his report gave orders to give the permit to Joseph of Arimathea to take over the body.
Through the comprehensive comparison and analysis of the four Gospels, it reasonable to see that the time when the disciples took over the body of Jesus was already after the sunset. The handing over of the death row’s body to the family can not be done in a easy way. Pilate, who recieved the request of Joseph, ordered a subordinate to check the execution result, and he responded to the request after checking Jesus’ death. Could Pilate’s words help the Roman soldier hand over Jesus’ body to Joseph? Maybe, some documentation needed. With all these procedures, you can guess how long it would take to take over the body.
It was written in the Bible that the arrest, the trial, the execution, and the funeral of Jesus took place in a day(that is, the Preparation Day or the day before the Sabbath). If the sunset should be the ending time of the Preparation day and the beginning time of the Sabbath, it was impossible that all those events must happen before the sunset.
Moreover, the funeral process performed by the disciples was not so simple that it was more than just putting Jesus’ body on a stone grave. The disciples would have taken over the body of Jesus and carefully moved it to Mark’s attic, where the body was washed thoroughly, and they wrapped it with spices in strips of linen in accordance with Jewhish burial custom. I should take long time to wrap it with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. They brought the body carefully to the new tomb cut out of rock and placed it inside. Then they rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
【John 19:37-42】 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
According to John, all procedure of the funeral was based on the Jewish burial custom. It would have taken a lot of time to use spices about seventy five pounds according to the Jewish funeral law. After the body has been cleaned, it can not be finished within a couple of hours to cleansed the body and to wrap it in strips of linen with the spices about seventy five pounds. Every step of the funeral would have been done solemnly and reverently in sorrow. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were from the prestigious family, so they knew the Jewish burial custom very welll. Even though they hurried to finish the funeral before the beginning of the Sabbath, but it would have been pious and solemn, as time permits.
According to the Gospels, after the funeral, the men all returned, but the women remained in front of the grave. It is a scene where the sadness of the women who wanted to keep the Lord a little longer is felt even though there is no time left until the beginning of the Sabbath.
【Matt. 27:59-61】 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
【Luke 23:52-54】 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
Bible says “the Sabbath was about to begin,” and it means that the funeral was finished just before the Sabbath. When the Sabbath came, women returned home and rested on the Sabbath according to the commandments. Then, at the early dawn of the end of the Sabbath day, they visited the tomb again.
【Matt. 28:】 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
It is clear that the beginning of the day is the sunrise when you closely examine the Gospel record that records Jesus’ funeral process.
5. Through various events recorded on the day of resurrection
In Luke 24, there is a record that Jesus resurrected and appeared on that day to two disciples who left Jerusalem and went to Emmaus. Jesus spoke with the two disciples and accompanied them to Emmaus. Records indicate that when they arrived in Emmaus, it was nearly evening. The day was almost over.
【Luke 24:28-29】 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
At the dinner table,the two disciples ate Jesus’ blessed bread and finally came to recognize that he was Jesus. But he suddenly disappeared. Even though it was late evening, the two disciples were so surprised that they came back to Jerusalem and informed the eleven disciples. When they assembled together and the two told them what had happened on the way to Emmaus, Jesus himself appeared among them on the spot.
【Luke 24:33-36, 39】 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” …… Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see
The same scene is recorded in the Gospel of John. It is written that Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of that first day of the week. Considering the time it took for the two disciples to return from Emmaus to Jerusalem, it is assumed that they met the eleven disciples in Jerusalem at a very late night. However the Gospel of John said that it happened on the first day of the week. It is the point where we know that the beginning of the day is not sunset, but sunrise.
【John 20:19】 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
6. The ordinance of the Day of Atonement cannot be the basis for the sunset theory
【Lev. 23:32】 It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”
“From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.” Base on the above verse, there are some denominations who claims the sunset theory. They even argue that the seventh-day Sabbath begins on Friday evening. However, the verse above is not about the seventh-day Sabbath, it is about the ordinance of the Day of Atonement. It also only explained how to prepare for the Day of Atonement, regardless of the beginning of the day.
【Lev. 23:26-32】 The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire …… It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”
As mentioned in the above chapter, there are weekly and annual appointed feasts. As you know, the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath. And it should be noted that the annual feasts are also the Sabbaths. The above verse says that the annual appointed feast, the Day of Atonement(the tenth day of the seventh month), should be kept as the Sabbath. However, it means that the day of Atonement should be prepared with prayer for repentance to deny ourselves, especially from the evening of the previous day.
In order to prepare for the Day of Atonement, we must rest from the evening of the ninth day of the seventh month. But you can find in this passage that the evening itself does not belong to the Day of Atonement. The above verse was a special rule to rest from the previous evening for the Day of Atonement. It was not the claim of the date caculation to support the sunset theory.
7. Nehemiah’s record cannot be the basis for the sunset theory.
【Neh. 13:19】 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.
The record above tells the circumstances of the Israelites who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah. Some people regard this verse as a example of the sunset theory. However, in the context of the postwar context, Nehemiah’s command does not mean that the seventh-day Sabbath begins the previous evening. When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem befor the Sabbath, Nehemiah ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. It was because he wanted that no loads could be brought in on the Sabbath day. He tried to stop the merchants and sellers bringing all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. Basically his order was to make the Israelites keep the Sabbath holy.
【Neh. 13:15-16】 In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.
At that time, on the Sabbath, the people near Jerusalem entered the city of Jerusalem, where the temple was located, and merchants who sold the merchandise were gathered to sell everything on the Sabbath. In particular, in the case of agricultural or marine products such as vegetables and fruits, merchants harvested the same day and transported them to Jerusalem late at night to sell them with freshness.
The governor Nehemiah wanted to keep these merchants out of the city and hoped that the temple in Jerusalem would be reverent on the Sabbath day. Therefore, he stationed some of his own men at the gates from Friday evening to prohibit merchants from bringing goods.
【Neh. 13:20-21】 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.
As the merchants were unable to enter the gates on Friday evening, they began to spend the night outside Jerusalem and attempted to bring goods into Jerusalem in the early morning. The governor Nehemiah told them that they would be arrested, so that they would never be able to sell again on the Sabbath. Finally they no longer came on the Sabbath from that time on.
The closing of the gate on the previous evening wasn’t because the Sabbath began in the evening, but it was merely a ban on the traders from bringing in goods to make the Israelites keep the Sabbath reverently.