When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:1-3).
The Gospels do not give an answer as to why the women going to anoint the body of Jesus did not give that question any thought prior to arriving at the tomb. The simplest explanation is that in a fog of grief they simply did not consider the problem of moving the stone until moments before arriving at the tomb. It is not an unusual human occurrence to fail to think ahead, especially when consumed by grief.
Other possible explanations are:
- The women thought that the Roman guards (Matt. 27:66) might open the tomb for them but then had second thoughts about that prospect.
- The women had seen where Jesus had been placed (Mark 15:47) but might not have stayed long enough to see the stone rolled in front of the tomb, and they asked the question recorded in Mark 16:3 only once they saw the stone from a distance.
- The question was never actually asked but was a sort of “creative license” by the author of the Gospel of Mark to highlight the drama. In this theory, the women simply went to the tomb to mourn (John 20:11) and pray (Matt. 27:61, 28:1) and therefore would have had no actual need for the stone to be rolled back (see also the apocryphal Gospel of Peter).
- The woman expected to encounter other people either along the way or in the vicinity who could roll it back for them—for example, the gardener (John 20:15).