Mark 16:1 When the sabbath was past, the women bought spices in order to anoint the body of Jesus.
Luke 23:56 The women prepared the spices and ointments and then rested the sabbath day.
At a first glance, and when going by what one may have heard or read traditionally about the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, these scriptures from Mark and Luke appear to be contradictory to each other in terms of the timing given as to when the women went to buy the spices and ointment and when they prepared spices and ointment for to anoint Jesus' body. In Mark 16, buying the spices and ointment is said to have taken place after the sabbath ("when the sabbath was past"), in Luke however the women already prepared the spices and ointment before the sabbath had even begun ("they rested on the sabbath day").
Reading different translations and taking a closer look at these passages, as well as a look at the Greek text, does not bring any further new insights, but rather affirms that these passages are indeed correct in their wording and that there are no textual variances nor any translation problems as such. But then, where is the problem? If the translation is correct, then the problem of an apparent contradiction must be within our own understanding of these passages. Somehow we do not understand something correctly, and that causes the apparent contradiction. Now what is it in this case which produces this apparent contradiction?
The seeming contradiction is in the fact that it seems that the information about the purchase and the preparation of the spices and ointment for the anointing of Jesus' body by the women is said in one place to have happened BEFORE the sabbath and in the other place AFTER the sabbath. The problem is that events involving an identical matter seemingly did not happen at the same identical time - which is impossible. It is important to note that in such a view of this situation we base our considerations on the fact that there was only one set of spices and ointments which were bought and prepared, as well as that the reference is to only one sabbath day, the weekly sabbath (Saturday). Since it is impossible for both statements made by Mark and by Luke to be true in such a case, it follows that one of these components of our considerations cannot be correct and must therefore be false.
In general there is the possibility that the women did not go once to purchase and prepare spices and ointments, but rather did this twice once on the day before the sabbath, and a second time on the day after the sabbath. However, this can be safely disregarded in this case because for one there is really no mention in the text for such a double purchase, and secondly it would make absolutely no sense that the women would go again on the day after the sabbath to purchase more spices when other gospel records already show that the women went to the grave with the ointments very early on the day after the weekly sabbath, and learned that the grave was already empty. This possibility therefore is to be discarded as a possible solution.
The only other possibility is that we are not dealing with only one identical sabbath, but rather there are two different sabbath days involved. In this case, the first sabbath was a special sabbath, a high day (the day of a feast), and after this sabbath there was a regular weekday followed by the normal weekly sabbath day. The women would then have gone and bought the spices and ointments on the day after the first sabbath and prepared everything in order to then rest on the second sabbath day and be ready to go to the grave immediately after the weekly sabbath was over to anoint Jesus' body. This would also be the third day since the burial, and the watch which had been placed at the grave upon request of the elders of the people would not have made it possible for the women to gain access to the grave any earlier. This then really is what happened, as I explored in greater detail in a study entitled Was Jesus 3 days and 3 nights in the grave?. Jesus was crucified on 14 Nisan, the day before the high day, which was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread (also called "feast of Passover") on 15 Nisan, and he died in the afternoon on 14 Nisan and was buried still before sunset that day, which was the beginning of the new day. This was a Wednesday. The women saw that Jesus had not been buried properly according to custom, and they went and bought spices and ointment on the day after the special sabbath day, which was Friday, and then they needed to rest during the following day, the weekly sabbath day.
The apparent contradiction is solved when we notice that the traditional teaching of a crucifixion on Friday and the consideration of only one sabbath day, the weekly sabbath, is incorrect. The records record the identical event, the identical activities of the women on Friday during that week, but they relate the event to two different sabbath days during that week. Mark 16 speaks of the high sabbath, the special sabbath on 15 Nisan; Luke however speaks of the weekly sabbath which was on 17 Nisan. When we understand the two records correctly, the apparent contradiction is solved and we can again rejoice at the great accuracy of the revelation of God in His Word.