Q: If it is true that in the original Greek there “was no punctuation”, and different translations place the commas in different places, then that changes the understanding of the meaning of what is being said here. Holman, CEV and others place the comma in a way that implies that Jesus had already risen, before the first day of the week:

“Early on the first day of the week, after He had risen, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, …  (HCSB).

“Very early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen to life, he …  (CEV).

This means he was already risen on the first day of the week, Sunday, which means he rose on the seventh day of the week, being Saturday before sunset. (The Jewish people observed the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.) Plus Mary Magdalene with others were headed to the tomb “very early on the first day”, Sunday, ready to work (which was forbidden on God’s holy day of rest). So my question is, would it not be better for the translators to leave out the punctuation if there is no absolute way to know where the commas belong, so as to not confuse everyone?

There are two questions here:

  1. first about whether “early on the first day” belongs to “having been raised” or to “he appeared”;
  2. second about whether “early” can mean the evening before.

1. Although HCSB and CEV (above) do move “having risen” forward into the sentence, which in English does allow that reading, the Greek is structured as per the following from the ESV.

Mark 16:9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. (ESV)

Greek doesn’t have commas, but does have rules about word order. An adverb “at dawn” “first” should normally follow the verb it relates to, so the Greek text should normally read:

“Having risen at dawn of Sunday, he appeared first to Maria Magdalene”

In order to achieve the reading “he appeared first at dawn of Sunday to Maria Magdalene” or “he appeared first to Maria Magdalene at dawn of Sunday” the phrase “at dawn of Sunday” would normally have to be repositioned after “he appeared”.

So no, it’s best that the translators do leave the commas in, if they’ve translated correctly. There are examples of course where the commas are in but in the wrong place — the famous example being Luke 23:43 where the adverb “today” should by normal rules (as above) belong to “I say”, not to “be in paradise”, but in the case of that verse the traditional reading, even if widely known to be incorrect, is too popular to correct. Generally,however, commas in most versions are in the correct places, and should be included in the English as a legitimate part of the translation.

2. The meaning of the word “early” (πρωΐ ) in Jewish contexts is debated, as to whether it means 03:00-06:00AM or 06:00-09:00  in different contexts. In Mark 1 it is before dawn:

Mark 1:35 “early (πρωΐ ) while it was still dark”

But in the context of Mark 13 it appears to mean, after cock-crow, and cocks crow before the sun, hence dawn:

Mark 13:35 “whether he comes at midnight, at cock-crow, or early-morning (πρωΐ)”

But “early the previous evening, the start of the Jewish day” is not a possible reading.

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