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Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 8 b: Alleged Discrepancies in The Resurrection Accounts
There is little question that, on an initial reading, the chronology of the events surrounding the discovery of Jesus' resurrection are difficult to fit in with each other, with many specifics seemingly difficult to reconcile. However, should one investigate carefully, the details gradually fall into place, with very little conjecture.

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

List of Chapters
For a slightly longer description of each chapter, please go to the Main Index

Part 1: ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’. The question is how do you know that the spiritual path you are on will lead somewhere you want to be?
Part 2: Religious Pluralism. Anyone who doesn't have their facts straight cannot be trusted, and certainly not to show you the path to God.
Part 3: Faith and The Bible. Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from its followers.
Part 4: God And His Bible. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books.
Part 5: Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament.
  Part 6: Why Jesus Is Without Equal. Anyone can claim to be divine, be divinely inspired, or have mystical visions or experiences, but...
Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament. Applying the same standards to the Bible as we do to other ancient literary works.
Part 8: Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament. Most alleged 'mistakes' arise from understanding too little about the Bible.
YOU ARE HERE001orange Part 8 b: Alleged Discrepancies in the Resurrection Accounts
Part 9: The Bible, Then And Now. The New Testament happens to be the best authenticated ancient document... by far.
Part 10: Historical Corroboration. Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-Christian sources?
Part 11: Does archaeology confirm, or undermine, the New Testament accounts?
Part 12: Is The Evidence Insufficient or Too Obscure? A far more sensible way to look at it is... the more severe the consequences, the fewer risks we should take.
Part 13: The Message of The Bible. The Heaven Jesus was sent to tell us about is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there'
Part 14: The Warning of The Bible. We are all under the death penalty.
Part 15: Who Is and Isn't a Christian. Since the word originated with the Bible, only the Bible has the right to define what a "Christian" is. Part 16: Myths and misconceptions that stem from knowing too little about Biblical Christianity.


Part I
The Importance of the Resurrection

Factors That Skeptics Usually Overlook

Part II
Alleged Discrepancies in The Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection
When The Stone Was Moved
How Many Women Visited The Tomb?
Why Matthew Only Named Two Women
Timing of The Women's Visit
Angels or Men?
One Angel Or Two
Did The Women Report what They Had Seen and Heard, or Not?
Mary Magdalene's Second Visit
How Could Mary Magdalene Not Have Recognized Jesus?

An Difference is Not the Same as A Contradiction

Part III
Chronology Of Events

Jesus' Post-Resurrection Appearances
Jerusalem or Galilee?


The Importance of the Resurrection

When it comes to our future, Jesus' bodily resurrection from the grave has a great deal of significance. In fact, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this momentous event.

We should know by now that God has offered us forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. See Salvation.  However, the Bible does not teach that only our souls will live on forever in some ethereal world, but that our physical bodies will one day be raised. In other words, death will not be the termination of our physical existence. Jesus' resurrection was the first, but it will be followed by many, many more.

How can we know this for sure?

In the Old Testament, God introduced the Seven Feasts of Israel which not only celebrated a historical event in Israel's past but were, at the same time, a prophecy of future events. The first four feasts have already been fulfilled, the first two by Jesus Christ on the actual feast days according to the Hebrew calendar. Jesus He was sacrificed on the day of preparation for the Passover (which was when the lambs were actually slaughtered. See John 19:14) and resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits when a sheaf of grain from the very first of the harvest was waved before the Lord - a symbolic gesture that dedicated the coming harvest to Him (Leviticus 23:9-11). Jesus' resurrection was the first-fruits of the harvest to come at the end of the age. See The Seven Feasts of Israel. As Paul said...

    But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB)

    For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:22-23 NASB)

In other words, if Christ were not raised from the dead then, when we die, we too are destined to stay dead. It is no wonder that Paul says without Christ’s resurrection, all believers from centuries past have "perished" and our faith is in vain. We will never attain eternal life.

    and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:14-20 NASB)

Factors That Skeptics Usually Overlook
Apart from the four Gospel accounts, there is no documentation that supports the resurrection. Thus the claim that Jesus rose from the grave hangs exclusively on New Testament texts.

However, critics claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John's accounts of the resurrection differ substantially from each other and that these discrepancies or contradictions can neither be harmonized nor explained. This is then offered up as 'evidence' that the Gospels are completely unreliable as eyewitness testimony and can therefore be summarily dismissed. At the same time, skeptics blatantly ignore quite a few facts.

The Gospel Authors Were "Historians"
While critics regularly point out that no 'contemporaneous historian' said a single word about the event, they seem to forget that "historian" is not a title bestowed on a person at birth, not is it an office one aspires to. A "historian" is someone who simply writes or records history, which is exactly what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did. All four of them lived at the same time and were therefore 'contemporaneous historians'.

However, critics are rarely satisfied.

Had there only been one document that testified to Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection, we would have dismissed it as the work of someone who had been smoking something he shouldn't have. Not only is four separate records by four different authors of someone who lived two thousand years ago unheard of, but a total of nine of the New Testament authors were eyewitnesses or contemporaries of the events. Between them they wrote 27 documents, the majority of which either directly or indirectly mention the Resurrection. In fact, I doubt any other event of ancient times is better supported than the resurrection of Christ.

How much more do we need, or expect to find?

However, skeptics tend to dismiss the four Gospel authors as unreliable historians, simply because their writings were included in the Bible. They forget that when these men sat down to write their accounts... there was no Bible as we know it today. All Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had was the Hebrew Scriptures... the Old Testament which had been completed some 400 years earlier.

Others believe that the Gospel authors were incapable of writing unbiased history because they had a stake in the matter. In which case, one would have to question how many historians had no point of view and no message they wanted to get across, but simply recorded bare facts.

The truth is the historical reliability of the gospel accounts is pooh-poohed because they include events that do not fit in with our ideas of what is possible and what is not.  After all, 'enlightened' moderns know that miracles of healing do not happen, angels (even if they exist) do not talk to men, and no one can be raised from the dead. And a secular culture that is increasingly more focused on the 'self' is unwilling to accept that man is accountable to God who controls the destiny of the world. As the late F. F. Bruce, professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester is reputed to have once said,

    If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. 

The Disciples Made No Effort To 'Tally' Their Stories
Since there is little doubt that the four disciples had plenty of time to ensure that their stories 'tallied', why didn't they do so? The very fact that they did not make the slightest effort to unify their descriptions is actually evidence to their reliability. Unless they are extremely stupid, people who conspire together to invent a false story will be careful to avoid contradictions, but as any trial judge know, genuine witnesses rarely agree on every single little detail. If they did, it is more than likely they would be treated with suspicion.

However, when it comes to the Bible, it is a no win situation. If the four authors agreed with each other in every regard, they would be accused of conspiracy. Because they didn't, they are accused of contradicting one other.

What is necessary is that they agree on the vital points, which is exactly what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did.

They Agreed on The Fundamental Issues
What skeptics tend to forget that the Gospels all agree on the central facts, i.e. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans, died several hours later, and was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, which was sealed with an extremely large stone. Early Sunday morning several women, including Mary Magdalene, who is named in all the Gospels, visited His tomb, only to find that it was empty. Not only were the women the first to be told by an angelic being that Christ had risen from the dead, but they were also the first to see the risen Christ. Subsequently Christ appeared to the disciples then to many other people.

Jesus' Followers Were Initially Very Skeptical

A reading of all four Gospels makes it clear that Jesus' followers were neither gullible fools who would believe any story that came along nor were they zealots bent on propagating a resurrection myth. (In any case  In any case Who In Their Right Mind Would Invent The God of The Bible?) They were convinced that His body had been spirited away by the authorities, and frankly disbelieving when told that Jesus had actually risen from the grave. It was only personal contact with an angel or Jesus Himself that convinced them that He was alive.

    When the women found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, they were initially confused (Luke 24:1-4). In fact, Mary Magdalene was convinced that someone had stolen Jesus' body, which is what she told the disciples (John 20:13-15).

    It was only after being reassured by an angel that Christ had actually been resurrected, that some of the women, overcome with fear and great joy, and ran to report it to His disciples. (Matthew 28:5-8) However, their joyous news was met with disbelief (Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:11)

    When Peter and John saw the empty tomb they did not connect it with the fact that Jesus had repeatedly foretold his resurrection. Nor did they understand the Scriptures (possibly Psalm 16:10) that He could not stay dead. (John 20:8-9)

    When the two men told the others that Jesus had walked with them on the road to Emmaus, they were not believed (Mark 16:12-13). Even after Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples, they were startled and frightened because they assumed Him to be a spirit, not a flesh and bone body. It was only after they touched Him and saw His hands and feet that they were convinced. (Luke 24:37-40)

    However, Thomas, who was missing that night, flatly rejected the idea that Jesus was alive although all other ten disciples affirmed it. (John 20:24-29) Again, it took a one-on-one encounter to convince him.

Odd How The Gospels Mention So Many NOT Recognizing Christ

The Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene did not immediately recognize the Lord (John 20:14-15), nor did the Emmaus travelers who mistook Him for a stranger to the area (Luke 24:13-18). The disciples initially thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37 NASB) and even when they saw Christ on the mountain in Galilee, some were doubtful *. (Matthew 28:17)

Had the disciples been making up stories, it seems counter-productive that they would have mentioned so many of them not recognizing Christ, simply because it swung the door wide open to charges that they were mistaken and did not, in actuality, see Jesus at all. They wrote of not recognizing Christ simply because that was exactly what happened.

How ALL Historical Accounts Are Pieced Together
Unfortunately many critics will not accept any explanations that contain even the smallest amount of speculation or conjecture which, I am sorry to say, shows little or no understanding of how history (especially ancient history) is constructed, or even how our judicial system works.

ALL history infers the past from partially known facts.

Anything that is known about any person or event in the past comes from documents, contemporary accounts, writing on steles or other ancient monuments, unearthed clay tablets, etc. However, since these sources do not present us with a complete step by step timeline and exact descriptions of what took place, we have to fill in many of the gaps. However, this does not mean we can take wild flights of fancy. Our job is to simply connect the dots making sure we do not deviate from what the evidence tells us.

The following quote has been attributed to blogger Stephen J. Graham on the website Skepticism First. Although I cannot find it on Stephen Graham's site, it is as true as it gets.

    "Ancient historians routinely have to deal with sources of mixed quality and varying reliability when they attempt to reconstruct past events, but they don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting an entire account because there's a possible minor discrepancy. Moreover this is a principle that we find all the time in the legal world: testimony does not need to be infallible before it can be accepted as reliable." [01]

For example, one witness may say he saw the suspect come out of the house wearing blood-stained blue shirt at just after ten a.m. The other says it was a few minutes before ten in the morning when he saw the suspect leave the house wearing a purple blood-stained shirt. Regardless of the discrepancies, the fact remains that they agreed on the essential fact that the suspect was in the house around ten in the morning, and his shirt had blood on it. 

Similarly, juries convict someone if the evidence provided proves beyond reasonable doubt that he or she committed the crime. However, no judge or jury in the world ever knows every single detail of how the crime took place, which means they have to fill in the gaps that exist between the bits of concrete evidence.

Discrepancies In Other Ancient Books Are Accepted

Few people realize the standards used to judge secular history is very different fromtThe discrepancies in the accounts of even some important historical events such as Hannibal crossing the Alps are often overlooked.

The Greek author Herodotus was called 'The Father of History' by Cicero because he wrote the first great historical narrative of the ancient world -  the History of the Greco-Persian Wars. Yet, as Joshua J. Mark, who teaches ancient history, writing, literature, and philosophy, says

    While it is undeniable that Herodotus makes some mistakes in his work, his Histories are generally reliable, and scholarly studies in all disciplines concerning his work (from archaeology to ethnology and more) have continued to substantiate all of his most important observations. [02]

In fact Aristotle may have incorrectly stated where Herodotus was born..

    Herodotus identifies himself in the prologue to his work as a native of Halicarnassus (on the south-west coast of Asia Minor, modern Turkey) and this is accepted as his birth place even though Aristotle and the Suda claim he was a native of Thurii. This discrepancy is generally understood as a mistake made in an ancient source (possibly a translation of Herodotus’ work) as Herodotus may have lived on the island of Thurii but had not been born there [03]

Alleged Discrepancies in The Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection

However, is the charge true that there are irreconcilable contradictions in the Gospel accounts?

A superficial reading does tend to lead to the conclusion that a lot of mistakes were made. However, we first need to be clear as to what a true contradiction is. A contradiction is a difference or disagreement between two things both of which cannot be true.  A contradiction does not exist if a plausible explanation can be provided which shows that both things can be true.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that when people read seemingly contradictory accounts of the same event they rarely ask themselves (as they should) whether it is the account that is truly contradictory or whether the same information is being presented from a different perspective. In other words, is it possible that both accounts are accurate, but each of the witnesses are, for whatever reason, simply recording different portions or even different points of view of the same event? It is not a contradiction if person A tells us part of the story and person B relates another portion of the same story. Much to the contrary the information given by one person actually complements or completes the information given by another.

(Note: In at least one case, there is some indication as to why one Matthew chose what details to include).

Retired judge Herbert C. Casteel, a practicing attorney for fifteen years and a trial judge for twenty-six years, wrote in his book Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

    False testimony appears on the surface to be in harmony, but discrepancies appear when you dig deeper. True accounts may appear on the surface to be contradictory, but are found to be in harmony when you dig deeper." [04]

And he is certainly right. If you are clear as to what constitutes a true contradiction. If you are familiar with Scripture as a whole and realize that the ancients did not adhere to generally accepted modern standards or writing. If you are aware that some peculiarities of Greek grammar have to be taken into consideration. And, above all, if you make the effort to piece together the four accounts - virtually all the so-called contradictions disappear.

Note: Please read Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:14-18 for each ones full account of the resurrection.

When The Stone Was Moved
One of the more common criticisms is that Matthew supposedly said that the women saw the angel moving the stone, whereas Mark, Luke and John say the stone had already been rolled away when they arrived.

    Matthew: In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was (ginomai) a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. (28:1-2 KJV)

    Mark: They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up, they *saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. (Mark 16:3-4)

    Luke: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, (24:1-2)

    John: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it *was still dark, and *saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. (20:1 )

The problem here is that we rely on English translations that appear to relay a chronological sequence. The original Greek does not necessarily do so.

The words "there was" in Matthew's account is translated from the Greek ginomai which is in the aorist tense that, by itself, does not necessarily imply chronological sequence. In short, ginomai could be translated "was" or even "had been". This is reflected by the NASB rendering- "And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred". [For Details See http://christianthinktank.com/ordorise.html]

In other words, Matthew did not claim that the stone was moved as the women arrived. In fact, as you will see later, it is entirely possible that by the time the women arrived at the tomb, this particular angel having done what he was sent to do, had already left.

Earthquakes in The Region
Incidentally, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in old Jerusalem was built by the Roman emperor Constantine as two connected churches over two different sites... 1) the traditional site of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified and 2) On the other side, a rotunda which contains the remains of a rock-cut room believed to be Jesus' burial site. Pertinent to Matthews account is that fact that the church has been damaged by earthquakes several times - in 746, 810 and 1034 A.D. The last earthquake in 1927 caused such major cracks in the structure that the rotunda had to be shored up with scaffolding.

How Many Women Visited The Tomb?

    Matthew: Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. (28:1)

    Mark: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. (16:1)

    Luke: Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.  (24:10)

    John: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it *was still dark, and *saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.  (John 20:1 NASB)

While Matthew names two women - Mary Magdalene and another Mary, Mark adds Salome to the list. Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary - the mother of James. John only mentions Mary Magdalene.

Quite simply, these were never intended to be comprehensive lists of every single woman who went to the sepulcher that morning as is perfectly evident from Luke's account. While he only names three women, he speaks about "the other women with them." Similarly, John only names Mary Magdalene but acknowledges the presence of additional women. In her report to the disciples, Mary Magdalene uses the plural pronoun "we" ... "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." (John 20:3 NASB).

    (Note: By "they" she could have meant either the Jews or the Romans. Matthew 27:64-6 does not make it clear whether Pilate appointed Roman guards, or whether he told the Pharisees to use their own temple guard. See Acts 4:1. The very fact that the guards went to the chief priests to report all that had happened (Matthew 28:11-15) makes it far more likely that a Jewish guard was used. Besides which, Roman guards would have been executed for falling asleep on a watch. Another point in favor of the guard being Jewish is that when the women came to the temple that morning they would have known that they themselves could not possibly move the stone. Perhaps they hoped that Jews, who would have understood what it was the women wanted to do, would move the stone long enough for them to anoint Jesus' body with spices. Roman guards would not have made any such concessions).

So how many women made the journey that morning? We have absolutely no idea.

However, if you read Luke 8:1-3 and Mark 15:40-41, it is clear that quite a few women not only followed Jesus from Galilee but, as Matthew 27:55-56 and Luke 23:27 point out, many of them were present at the crucifixion. (See Footnote I) Since it is quite unlikely that most of the women who were mourning and lamenting at the cross lost interest in Jesus in a matter of a day or two many, or even all, of them could have gone to the tomb that morning to anoint Jesus' body with spices.

Why Matthew Only Named Two Women
While the idea that what each of the Gospel authors focused on was a matter of individual perspective can be stretched to breaking point, it certainly seems to be true in Matthew’s rendering of that morning's events.

Although both Luke and John only named particular women, they made it clear that an unspecified number of women were also at the tomb. Luke 23:55-56 possibly indicates that other women might have been present at the burial. Matthew and Mark both mention Mary Magdalene and another Mary as being there. What is interesting is that they also state that these same two women watched to see where Jesus was buried.

    Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid. (Mark 15:47 NASB)

    And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.  (Matthew 27:61 NASB)

However, as previously mentioned, in his narrative Mark adds Salome to the list, but Matthew specifically names the only two women who were present when Jesus was buried. In other words, he particularly mentions that the two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses, were present at both the burial and the tomb when Jesus was resurrected.

Was this just one of those things or did Matthew, writing as he did to a primarily Jewish audience, have a very specific reason for doing so.

It is particularly interesting that when he writes about the women visiting the tomb, Matthew says nothing about them wanting to anoint Jesus' body but, instead says they came to "see" the sepulcher (Matthew 28:1). In other words, having been witnesses to his burial, the two Marys were now witnesses to the fact that He was no longer where they had laid Him.

Two witnesses!

From the very beginning of the Bible, a minimum of two witnesses were required to confirm facts.

    A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  (Deuteronomy 19:15 NASB)

    But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. (Matthew 18:16 NASB)

    This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (2 Corinthians 13:1 NASB)

    Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Hebrews 10:28 NASB)

And the pattern will continue through the end of days.

    And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  (Revelation 11:3 NASB)

Matthew's two witnesses established the truth of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Which makes it hardly surprising that he is the only one of the Gospel authors to include the story of the guards stationed at the entrance of the tomb, the fact that the angels caused them to pass out, and that they colluded with the chief priests to say that the disciples stole the body away while they were asleep (Matthew 28:11-15). Matthew's account not only counters the story of Jesus' body being stolen, but the women were named as the two witnesses to His' resurrection. This is perfectly in line with the overarching purpose of Matthew's Gospel which was to prove that Jesus is the Messiah

It is interesting that Rabbi Tovia Singer who is one of Judaism's more vocal critics of the resurrection narrative says

    Further contradicting Matthew's post-resurrection account, John's story lacks the Roman guards whom Matthew places at the tomb to prevent anyone from removing Jesus' body. How could John's Mary have thought that someone removed the body, when according to Matthew, Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb for the specific purpose of preventing just such an occurrence? Obviously, the author of the fourth Gospel has no need for Roman guards at the tomb, so in John's crucifixion account they simply do not exist. [05]

Ummm! In the first place to repeat something mentioned earlier, Matthew 27:64-6 does not make it clear whether Pilate appointed Roman guards, or whether he told the Pharisees to use their own temple guard- see Acts 4:1. Also, John was not the only one who made no mention of guards - Luke and Mark did not say anything about them, and had Matthew not had a specific purpose in mentioning the guards, he might not have done so either.

    Note: As a by-the-way, it is interesting to note that the Jewish leaders never denied that the tomb was empty, but instead tried to explain it away. In other words, the earliest opponents of Christianity and Jesus Himself, bear witness to the fact that the tomb was empty.

Perhaps, the average reader will now understand that Matthew did not just pull a couple of names out of a hat, but the fact that he specifically mentioned only the two Marys as being at the tomb was deeply significant. Which makes one wonder how many times the other three authors also had good reason for what they chose to include and what they chose to eliminate, although we may not always understand their thinking.

John's Perspective
So, if there were, as Luke and John both indicate, at least two other women with Mary Magdalene that morning, why did John only name Mary Magdalene? Perhaps for the same reason Mark only named three women, i.e. none of them intended to give us a detailed list of all the early morning visitors. Also, if you read John's account, it is notable that he actually had so little to say about the initial discovery of the open tomb. Unlike the other authors, John says nary a word about an earthquake, the guards, the conversation the women had among themselves, or their confusion at seeing the stone rolled away. He does not describe the angels nor recount their message.

All John says is that upon seeing the moved stone, Mary ran to report this to Peter and the other "disciple whom Jesus loved", usually identified as John himself.  In which case, it is easy to see that John was focused on when and how he heard the tomb was empty, and what he and Peter did next, i.e. immediately run there to see for themselves.

In other words, Mary Magdalene is named because she was the one who told them that Jesus' body was missing. And, after John tells us what happened when he and Peter visited the tomb, he immediately returned to Mary Magdalene because she was the first one to see the risen Christ.

Timing of The Women's Visit
Critics often accuse the Gospel authors of not even knowing when the women came to the tomb.

    Matthew: "after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave."

    Mark: "Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen."

    Luke: "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared."

    John: "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark."

The supposed discrepancy has a lot to do with Mark who is believed to have said the women came to the tomb "when the sun had risen". However, Mark uses that often troublesome aorist tense that does not necessarily mean past time. "An aorist participle may express any time (past, present, or rarely future) relative to the main verb" [06]. In fact Young's literal translation, published in 1862, renders this verse as "and early in the morning of the first of the sabbaths, they come unto the sepulchre, at the rising of the sun,  (Mark 16:2 YLT)

    Note: An article in Wikipedia says "Because the aorist was not maintained in either Latin or the Germanic languages, there have long been difficulties in translating the Greek New Testament into Western languages."

Also, it is entirely possible that the women began their journey while it was still dark but, by the time they arrived at the tomb, the sun was beginning to appear over the horizon. Besides which, I have no idea why it is assumed that all the women walked together and arrived at the tomb at the same time. While the synoptic Gospels all mention the dawn, John is the only one that says Mary Magdalene "came early to the tomb while it was still dark" which means she could have arrived at the tomb ahead of some of the others, well before sun up.

In fact, there is some indication that more than one group of women visited the tomb that morning. For instance, Luke tells us that they

    ".. returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:9-12 NASB)

Luke's words could very well point to the fact that two separate groups of women told the disciples what had happened. When Luke said also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles, the word "also" could very well indicate a second telling. The first group might have included Joanna and the two Marys, with Mary Magdalene as the spokesperson. The second group possibly consisting of the other women who had also been at the tomb. And, when Luke wrote that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven, he could have been summarizing the actions of all the women.

Rabbi Tovia Singer is typical of people who jump to conclusions based on a shallow reading of the text. In his words,

    This account in the Book of John could not have occurred in Matthew's post-resurrection narrative. How could Mary have not known that Jesus' body was not laid anywhere? In Matthew's story, the angel had already revealed to her that Jesus rose from the dead and had gone to the Galilee. It would have been preposterous for her to think that someone had moved the body when the angels had already informed her that Jesus' resurrection had occurred. Moreover, if the angel's instructions to her were not convincing enough, Matthew claims that Mary also met the resurrected Jesus himself immediately after leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:9) – and all this transpires before Mary ever sees the disciples! [07]

Based on her comment about not knowing what had happened to the Lord's body, we can be certain that Mary Magdalene was not among the group of women who were told by angels that He had risen from the dead. Although the Bible does not specifically mention that she was separate from the other women, it certainly does not disallow the idea. There is more than one possibility here ...

Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb with Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, while it was still dark, then seeing the stone out of it's place and assuming that the sepulcher had been rifled, ran to tell the disciples.  Whether the two other women accompanied her is immaterial. Either they stayed behind and subsequently saw the angel, or some other women arrived at the tomb to see an empty sepulcher and an angel.

This does not contradict Matthew's account that says the angel spoke to the women, without mentioning which women.

As an aside, since Mary did not just tell Peter and John that the stone had been moved, but that Christ's body was gone, either she or one of the others had to have stepped, or at the very least, glanced inside.

Angels or Men?
One of the most irresponsible objections, that shows an abysmal lack of anything approaching Biblical knowledge, is that Mark and Luke say a man (or men) spoke to the women, while Matthew and John say they were angels. I call it "irresponsible" because if someone has so little knowledge of the Scriptures, they have no business writing half-baked assessments.

On more than one occasion in the Old Testament, angels are described as appearing in the form of men. For example, see Genesis 18:1–2 when the Lord Himself, apparently accompanied by two angels, visited Abraham. (Also See Has Anyone Ever Seen God?)

Also, Luke says it was the angel Gabriel who appeared and spoke to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-20) and to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-79). However, Daniel described Gabriel as "one who looked like a man."

    When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." .... while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. (Daniel 8:15-16, 9:21 NASB)

One Angel Or Two
Matthew tells us that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave, they discovered an angel of the Lord had descended from heaven, rolled the stone away and sat on it. Mark says that when the women entered the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right Mark. Luke wrote that when the women entered the tomb two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing" (Luke 24:4). John said when Mary stooped to look into the tomb; she saw two angels in white, one sitting at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

We can completely eliminate John's account from the problem since Mary Magdalene saw the angels on her second visit to the tomb which I will come to later. But is there necessarily a contradiction in the account about the number of angels in the remaining three Gospels?

Because breaks in the timeline of events are common to all four Gospels, inasmuch they often fast forwarded to an event that took place much later without any explanation, it is possible to break Matthew 28:1-5 up into three separate parts.  

    (1) Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 

    (2) And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. (3) And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.  (4) The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 

    (5) The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified."

In other words, one angel rolled away the stone and sat on it, terrifying the guards. Since these guards had already disappeared when Mary Magdalene arrived, it is entirely possible that the angel had too. His purpose was simply to move the stone and sit on it for a while to ensure no one tried to move it back. This would explain why neither Mark nor Luke mentioned an angel outside.

The only difficulty is in Mark and Luke's accounts. 

    Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.  (Mark 16:5 NASB)

    ... but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; (Luke 24:3-4 NASB)

Luke's narrative says the women were nonplussed when they discovered that Jesus’ body was missing. Upon which, two men wearing dazzling apparel suddenly stood near them. Remember that neither Mark nor Luke were present at the tomb that morning, which means that they heard about the events from one or more of the women who were. And it is possible that the same woman or women did not speak to both men, and the one/s that spoke to Mark neglected to mention that two angels appeared "suddenly".

Although Luke's account goes on to say "they" asked the women why they sought the living among the dead, it is very unlikely that both angels spoke in unison. One of the two was probably the 'spokesperson', which could also be why either Mark (or the woman/women who told him about the incident) only mentioned the one angel who spoke to them.

Perhaps a modern day example would better serve to show how two people can relate the same incident differently. If I and another person went by the bank this morning, and I later related what happened when we got there, I could have said.

    "We could not get any business done at the bank this morning because, as we were walking up to the door, two officers suddenly showed up and told us the bank was closed due to a security breach, but it would probably open later on in the day".

While the other person might have said something to the effect of

    "We needed to withdraw some money from the bank this morning. However, when we got there a police officer informed us that because there had been a cyber attack on the bank the previous night, the bank would remain closed for a few hours".

No one in their right mind could claim the two accounts are contradictory.

Did The Women Report what They Had Seen and Heard, or Not?
While we have absolutely no idea how far behind Mary Magdalene they were, there had to have been some delay before the second group of women relayed the angel's message. This is obvious because, as John says, Mary Magdalene came to Simon Peter and the other disciple and told them that someone had stolen Jesus' body (20:2). Had all the disciples been present, it is hardly likely that only Peter and John would have gone to the tomb to see for themselves. All eleven would have been seen tearing down the road to the sepulcher.

So Mary Magdalene reported the missing body to Peter and John, who immediately ran to the tomb and, finding that Jesus was indeed gone, returned home. At some point, the other women find all eleven disciples and relay the angel's message. Note, there is no indication whether these other women spoke to all eleven disciples together or separately. Also, although it seems reasonable apparent that Peter and John were close at hand in Jerusalem itself, we have absolutely no idea how far the women had to go to find the other disciples who may not have all been in one place. Bethany, where at least some of them might have been, is approximately two miles away.

When Luke 24:9-11 says the women "returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest," he included Mary Magdalene in the list of three names. Not because she was with the others, but because she made two trips to the disciples. The first time to tell Peter and John that the Lord was missing, and the second time to tell them that she had seen the Lord and what He had said to her. (John 20:18). All we know is that they were together in one place when Mary Magdalene returned from her second visit to the tomb and told of the Lord appearing to her. (John 20:18).

Which brings us to one detail commonly pointed out by critics.

    And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. (Matthew 28:8 NASB)

    They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8 NASB)

It is impossible to believe that Mark intended his readers to understand that the women disobeyed the angel's directive and never told anyone what they had seen and heard. The statement "they said nothing to anyone" had to have a time cap, i.e. they didn't stay mute forever. Especially since Luke 24 makes it abundantly clear that, other than the eleven disciples, the women spoke to at least two other men, and even named one of them.

We know this because, when Jesus began walking with Cleopas and an unnamed man who were headed to Emmaus, the three got into conversation. While we do not know why He did so, Jesus prevented the men from recognizing Him. When He asked them what they had been talking about, they told Him how they had hoped that Jesus, a prophet mighty in deed and word, was going to redeem Israel, but had been crucified. They then added

    But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see." (Luke 24:22-24 NASB)

As a by-the-way, when Luke recounted the women telling the "apostles" what had happened, he said "two of them" were going that very day to a village named Emmaus (Luke 24:10-13). In other words, the two men were also apostles, although they were not numbered among the remaining eleven disciples. They not only heard what the women said but, as they told Jesus, were among those who went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had reported.

An Unfinished Gospel?

Matthew’s account tells us that when Jesus met and greeted the women on the road, He told them not to be afraid, then reiterated the angels' command, i.e. they were to tell the disciples to leave for Galilee where they would see Him.

    And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus *said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." (Matthew 28:8-10 NASB)

It is entirely possible that the women left the tomb afraid and unwilling to tell anyone what had just happened and that Jesus appeared largely to reassure them. I see no other reason for Jesus to repeat the angel's instructions. Just as the disciples ignored the command to go to Galilee to meet Christ, the women were too afraid to do what the angel said. In both cases, Jesus Himself had to intervene.

Which would mean that Matthew truncated his account when he said the women left the tomb with "fear and great joy", which was a not unknown habit of the Gospel authors.

Also if, as many scholars claim, the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost with verses 9-20 added later*, then we have absolutely no idea what Mark said next. Did he write of the women talking to the disciples sometime later. We will never know...at least not in this life.

    * Note: This is a long-standing dispute, not helped very much by ancient manuscripts, because Alexandrinus includes verses 9-20, while Vaticanus and Sinaiticus omit them. (See chapter The Bible Then and Now for more on these ancient manuscripts). However, Biblical scholar and textual critic Bruce Metzger once wrote "Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them." [08]

Mary Magdalene's Second Visit
Although, when Peter and John got to the tomb, they saw the linen wrappings lying there; and the face cloth that had been on Jesus' head rolled up in a place by itself (20:6-7) they did not seem to realize that, had someone stolen the body, in all probability they would not have stopped to unwrap it, but would have hauled it off - grave clothes and all. They certainly would not have bothered to rewrap the face cloth.

In spite of the fact that all evidence pointed to the fact that Jesus' had simply passed through all those layers of cloth, leaving them undisturbed, at that point the two disciples did not "understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead". So they left and went home (John 20:9-10)

And, very possibly, Mary Magdalene followed them back to the sepulcher at a slower pace, not arriving until after they had left. Still very upset, she stood outside weeping, then stooped down to look into the tomb, whereupon she "saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying". (John 20:11-12). Since it is unlikely that both of them spoke in unison, one of them asked her why she was crying, to which she reiterated what she had said before - "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." (20:13).

Note that Luke only mentions Peter as being at the tomb. However, it is obvious that Peter went there twice. The first time was after he and John heard Mary Magdalene's initial report that Christ's body was gone. Running to the tomb they only managed to verify that the body was indeed missing. However, because Peter's second visit occurred after the other women relayed the angel's message that Jesus had risen, he understood the significance of the undisturbed linen wrappings, and 'marveled'. 

    But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:11-12 NASB)

It is often asked how it is possible that the women who left the tomb en route to report to the disciples, not meet Peter and John, or even Mary Magdalene who were on their way back to the burial site. I am afraid that, as a valid objection, this one is a non-starter. We have no idea where all the disciples were that morning, other than the fact Peter and John were obviously together. The women could have headed one way while Peter, John, and Mary arrived from another direction. 

How Could Mary Magdalene Not Have Recognized Jesus?

John then tells us that as she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but did not recognize Him. Again, much is made of this. How could Mary Magdalene, who was healed of demon possession by Christ and who subsequently followed Him everywhere, not know who He was.

To begin with, Mary was looking for a dead man, not a live one walking around the garden where Jesus's tomb was located. (John 19:41-42)

Let's look at how some of the English translations render the verse. The NIV says, "she turned around" as does the NASB and the ESV. The KJV says, "She turned herself back." We typically interpret these verses to mean Mary pivoted around and saw Jesus. However, the two Greek words used in this verse have also been used together in other places in the New Testament to describe a reversal of one's course. For example,

    On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back (Gk. eis and opiso).  (Luke 17:31 NASB)

    As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew (Gk. eis and opiso). and were not walking with Him anymore. (John 6:66 NASB)

Which means, Mary could very well have reversed her course, that is, turned and walked away from the tomb. In other words, not only do we have absolutely no idea how far Mary was from Jesus when she saw Him, but if you note John's exact wording it becomes obvious that Mary wasn't looking directly at Christ, but when she recognized His voice when He called her name, she turned in what was probably total amazement and said "Rabboni".

    Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). (John 20:15-16 NASB)

John then tells us that Mary Magdalene then went and announced to the disciples that she had "seen the Lord," and that "He had said these things to her".  (John 20:18 NASB). As previously mentioned, this is obviously a different event from John 20:2 in which she tells Peter and John that the Lord's body was missing.

An Difference is Not the Same as A Contradiction
The Gospel authors, very understandably, used different words even when quoting Jesus. And not very much has changed since. If, in the modern world, four people were asked to write a brief account of one event, how much would you be willing to bet that each of their versions would differ from the other three... in terms of what each person chose to include or exclude, what caught each one's attention, what each one focused on etc. And certainly the wording in each of the reports would be very different from the other three.

One example is when Jesus asked the disciples who people said He was, and who the disciples thought He was. While John makes no mention of this incident, there a difference in wording in both the question and answer in the other three accounts (See underlined portion).  Admittedly, this is a very simple example, but it serves to illustrate the point - a "difference" is not the same as a "contradiction". No one could anyone possibly believe that all three men were not reporting on the same conversation even though Matthew not only brings Jeremiah into the mix, but his account has Jesus using the term "Son of Man".

    Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He *said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:13-16 NASB)

    Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" They told Him, saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets." And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter *answered and *said to Him, "You are the Christ." (Mark 8:27-29 NASB)

    And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

The Angel's Words
When it comes to the angel's message, only Matthew and Mark mention the angel inviting the women to behold the place where Jesus had been laid, and that Jesus would go ahead of the disciples to Galilee. Only Luke mentions the angels telling the women to remember Jesus's words regarding how He would be killed, then rise again.

    The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you." And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. (Matthew 28:5-8 NASB)

    And he *said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'" (Mark 16:6-7 NASB)

    and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? "He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." And they remembered His words, (Luke 24:5-8 NASB)

However, all three of them were agreed on the angel's primary message... Jesus had risen. Had each of the authors given us identical, verbatim accounts of the angel's message, we would immediately have accused them of copying one from another, or of putting their heads together to come up with one story. 

Exactly the same principle applies to Jesus' appearances to various people after He was resurrected, which I will come to shortly.

Chronology Of Events
There is little question that, on an initial reading, the chronology of the events surrounding the discovery of Jesus' resurrection are difficult to fit in with each other, with many specifics seemingly difficult to reconcile. However, should one investigate carefully, the details gradually fall into place, with very little conjecture.

The Gospels do not really reflect the state of mind of the disciples nor the women who followed Jesus before He was killed. Since they did not really understand everything that the Lord had said to them, in their minds everything was normal one day, but their beloved leader was arrested and crucified the next. For them it was all over and they must have been too stunned and grief stricken to eat, sleep or even think straight. However, if that were no enough, they were then hit over the heads with another bit of shocking news - someone had stolen Jesus' body. This was quickly followed by a report from the women that they had been informed by an angel that Jesus had risen from the grave. I would imagine that many of the disciples believed that grief and exhaustion had taken its toll on the women and they were delusional.

The news that Christ had risen from the dead must have produced much commotion and, in all likelihood, there was only one common factor in the ensuing chaos... the first thing anyone who heard the news probably did was hurry down to the burial site to see for themselves. In fact, the road to the tomb probably saw more activity on that morning than it had all the rest of the year.

What makes it difficult is that none of the four authors gave us the precise order in which the events unfolded, nor did any claim to do so. None of them paid any attention to a timeline, or exact chronology of the events of that day. None of them told us who did exactly what, and in what order they did it. Neither did any of them try to reconcile or integrate the actions of one person or group with anyone else's actions on that day. Each of them gave us small pieces of information which takes time, effort and, above all, patience to sort through and is much like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. As Thomas L. Constable says in his notes on Matthew, "Matthew is the least chronological of the Gospels".

    Matthew often grouped his material into sections: so that three, five, six, or seven events, miracles, sayings, or parables appear together. Jewish writers typically did this to help their readers remember what they had written. The presence of this technique reveals Matthew's didactic (instructional) intent. Furthermore, it indicates that his arrangement of material was somewhat topical, rather than strictly chronological. Generally, chapters 1-4 are in chronological order, chapters 5-13 are topical, and chapters 14-28 are again chronological. [10]

However, it is possible to reasonably and logically construct a non-contradictory chronological timeline of the events of the resurrection, while remaining faithful to what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote.

    In summary, sometime before dawn, Jesus rose from the dead, literally passing through the grave clothes. An angel of the Lord showed up at the tomb, rolled the stone away then sat on it which, quite obviously, scared the dickens out of the guards who apparently, fainted. When they came to, they took off to tell the chief priests what had happened. The priests instructed the guards to tell everyone that Jesus' disciples came by night and stole Christ's body away while they were asleep. These instructions were accompanied by a large sum of money. (Matthew 28:1-15)

    Back at the sepulcher, the angel whose purpose it seemed to be to intimidate the guards/move the large stone and ensure that no one tried to replace it, left.

    Mary Magdalene who was possibly accompanied by Salome and Mary (the mother of James), arrived at the tomb and saw that it was open. Either Mary herself or one of the other women glanced or stepped inside, then Mary alone or all three of them took off to tell the disciples that someone had taken Jesus's body away (John 20:1-2).

    In the mean time, the other women whose identities we cannot be certain of, had an encounter with two angels who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, which they were to go and tell His disciples along with the fact that He was going ahead of them to Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:6-7). Luke does not mention the women's charge, but says they reported "all these things" to the disciples (Luke 24:5-9).

    Mary Magdalene (alone or accompanied by some other women) first met Peter and John who took off running to the tomb with Mary Magdalene following more slowly. By the time they got there, the other women who had spoken with the angels had left to try and find the disciples. (It is entirely possible that Mark only mentioned the one angel who was the spokesperson). Finding it empty, except for the linen wrappings and the still rolled up face cloth, Peter and John were probably as despondent as Mary was because they did not yet understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. There was nothing left for them to do, but go home, which they apparently did. (John 20:1-10)

    Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb after Peter and John had left and still thoroughly undone, stood outside crying. It is likely that she stooped to look into the tomb one again to make sure she hadn't been imagining that Jesus' body was missing. When she did so, she saw two angels in white who asked her why she was crying, to which she told them exactly what she had told Peter and John - her Lord was missing and she did not know where He had been laid. Turning away, or retracing her step through the garden she spied someone she took to be the gardener who also asked her why she was weeping. She was apparently not facing him when she asked if he was the one who had taken Jesus' body away. When 'the gardener' called her name, she suddenly realized it was the Lord Himself and turned towards Him, calling Him "Rabboni!"

    Shortly after this, the second group of women, who were now somewhere on the road (we have no idea how far they had to travel), had an encounter with the Lord Himself who reiterated the angel's instructions to take word to the disciples to leave for Galilee where they would see Him (Matthew 28:9-10). By the time the women caught up with the disciples, Peter was among them. Although the women were not believed, for reasons unknown to us, Peter got up and ran back to the tomb, this time by himself. On this, what appears to be Peter's second visit to the sepulcher, he seemed to understand the significance of the undisturbed linen wrappings, and 'marvelled' (Luke 24:11-12).

Jesus' Post-Resurrection Appearances
Critics often claim that the accounts of Jesus' appearances to people are hopelessly contradictory. For example,

    Luke speaks of Christ walking and talking to the men on the road to Emmaus, then the one appearance to the disciples when He ate with them. Interestingly,  between the two accounts Luke says the Lord appeared to Peter, but since no other details are mentioned, we do not know when this happened.

    Mark briefly mentions the men walking to Emmaus and Jesus' appearance to the eleven "as they were reclining at the table".

    Matthew only mentions that the eleven went to the mountain in Galilee that Jesus had designated where they saw the Lord but does not speak of any other appearance. Since Galilee was at least a days journey away, Jesus' appearance on the mountain top had to have preceded some of the others. (28:16-17).   

    John gives us a slightly better organized account of Jesus' appearances. In John 20 we are told that Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples (Thomas was not present) behind locked doors (John 20:19-23), then eight days later appeared again (John 20:26) when all eleven were present. Then, in John 21, he says Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias when some of them decided to go fishing.

    Note: It is little wonder that the disciples were hiding behind closed (locked?) doors. Rumors were being circulated that they had stolen Jesus ' body which would have been a crime. Also Note: John mentions that Christ's appearance at the Sea of Tiberias (also called The Sea of Galilee) was "the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead" which probably means the third time He appeared to them as a group, since he himself mentions Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus in the garden (20:14-17).

Again, the critic assumes that all the Gospel authors planned to give us a detailed timeline of the events that took place after Jesus' resurrection. When Jesus appeared, to whom He appeared, what time He did so etc. etc. etc.

They did not.

Luke wrote in Acts 1:3 that Jesus "presented Himself alive" to the apostles "appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God". Yet, all four of them only describe between one and three of these appearances. Each of the authors may only have mentioned the most prominent of His appearance, or the ones that stuck in their own minds. The end goal was the same - to substantiate that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.

We know is that Mary Magdalene was the very first to see the risen Lord, after which He appeared to some of the other women, two men walking to Emmaus, and the disciples twice in Jerusalem itself, then in Galilee. Matthew 28:16-17 says

    But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 

* Note: Considering the disciples had seen Jesus at least twice after His resurrection and had even eaten with Him, it seems unlikely that they were among those that doubted when they saw Jesus on the mountain. It is possible, as some believe, that Jesus' appearance on the mountain in Galilee was the same occasion when He appeared to over five hundred people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). Since Galilee was some 60-70 miles away, this appearance had to have taken place at least a few days after the resurrection, by which time the story of Jesus rising from the dead would have spread along with the fact that He said He would meet the disciples in Galilee. It is, therefore, more than likely that quite a few of Jesus' followers gathered on the mountain. So the "some were doubtful" probably refers to some of the people who had not previously seen Him.

In 1 Corinthians 15:5, Paul does mention that Christ appeared to Peter before He did the other apostles. However, although we cannot know for sure, it is possible that Peter encountered the risen Lord on his second visit to the tomb. In the same verse Paul also states that Jesus appeared to the twelve which may allude to Jesus' second appearance to the group when Thomas was present. Matthias might have been present, although he had not been formally chosen, which is possibly why Paul said "twelve". See Footnote II In the next verse Paul says the Lord appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom were still alive at the time of writing.

It is not clear in what order all of these appearances took place. Nor does it matter one whit. All that matters is that Jesus rose from the dead and, in totality, appeared to some five hundred people, beginning with His female followers, His disciples, and including His brother James. His final appearance was to Paul. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

We cheerfully assume contradictions just because none of the four chose to recount every single one of Christ's appearances. As said by attorney and congressman Walter M. Chandler in his book The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer's Standpoint

     Again, an investigation of the charge of discrepancy against the Gospel writers shows that the critics and skeptics have classified mere omissions as contradictions.  Noting could be more absurd than to consider an omission a contradiction, unless the requirements of the case show that the facts and circumstances omitted were essential to be stated, or that the omission was evidently intended to mislead or deceive. Any other contention would turn historical literature topsy-turvy and load it down with contradictions.  Dion Cassius, Tacitus, and Suetonius have all written elaborately of the reign of Tiberius. Many things are mentioned by each that are not recorded by the other two. Are we to reject all three as unreliable historians because of this fact? Abbott, Hazlitt, Bourrienne, and Walter Scott have written biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte. Not one of them has recited all the facts recorded by the others. Are these omissions to destroy the merits of all these writers and cause them to be suspected and rejected? 

    Grafton's Chronicles rank high in English historical literature. They comprise the reign of King John; and yet make no mention of the granting of Magna Charta. This is as if the life of Jefferson had been written without mention of the Declaration of Independence; or a biography of Lincoln without calling attention to the Emancipation Proclamation. Notwithstanding this strange omission, Englishmen still preserve Grafton's Chronicles as valuable records among their archives. And the same spirit of generous criticism is everywhere displayed in matters of profane literature.  The opponents of Christianity are never embarrassed in excusing or explaining away omissions or contradictions, provided the writer is a layman and his subject secular. But let the theme be a sacred one, and the author an ecclesiastic preacher, priest, or prophet – and immediately incredulity rises to high tide, engulfs the reason, and destroys all dispassionate criticism. [09]

Jerusalem or Galilee?
Before He was crucified, Jesus told the disciples that after He had been raised, He would go ahead of them to Galilee (Matthew 26:32). After His resurrection, both the angels and Jesus Himself instructed the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they would see Him (Matthew 28:7, Mark 16:7).

Yet, Jesus' first and second appearances to the disciples as a group were in Jerusalem. The alleged contradiction being that the Gospel authors could not agree on whether Jesus planned to meet the disciples -- in Galilee or in Jerusalem.

Remember that when the disciples, who had seen Jesus crucified and were tearfully mourning His death, were told by the women that He had risen, they thought the women were talking "nonsense" and would not believe them (Luke 24:9-11). Even when Mary Magdalene, returning from her second visit to the tomb told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord, they refused to believe her (Mark 16:10-11).

If Jesus had been waiting in Galilee for them, He might have still been waiting because the disciples showed absolutely no inclination to go to Galilee or anywhere else. Instead, they holed themselves up in a room in Jerusalem for fear of the Jews. When Jesus appeared to them, He "reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14 NASB)

Tarry In Jerusalem?
However, there is yet another point brought up by the skeptic, i.e. why Jesus instructed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), if the plan was to meet them in Galilee.

As said before, many charges of discrepancies and contradictions are made because the critic assumes ancient writers followed the same standards as most modern ones, i.e. They recorded everything in exactly chronological order and were very exact as to dates and times. Nothing could be further from the truth. In common with many other ancient authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John often went from one subject to the next without any regard to how much time had elapsed between them, nor any attention to chronological sequence.

If you read Luke's 24th chapter carefully, you will see that the events recorded in at least the first forty-three verses all occurred on the same day as the resurrection, as is made clear in verses 24:1,13,21,29, and 33. However, the later verses record a completely different time that Jesus spoke to the disciples.

How do we know?

According to what Luke wrote in Acts 1:1-12, Jesus was taken up to Heaven after He had "given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen." (Vs.1-2)

And what were those orders?

In Acts 1, verse 3, Luke wrote that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty days speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. The next couple of verses say He gathered them together and commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised, i.e. the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Vs. 4-5). (This was followed by the disciples asking Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, to which Christ replied that it was not for them to know the times, but they would receive power and would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. (Vs. 6-8). Verse nine says, "And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." 

In other words, Jesus' last command to the disciples was to tarry in Jerusalem, which is why the last verses of Luke 24 says "And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:52-53 NASB)

The question being where exactly the break occurs in Luke 24.

I suspect that the end of verse 43 is the cut-off point for Jerusalem. In other words the scene changes after "They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them." (Vs. 42-43) for Jerusalem. This would mean that verses 44 to 53 are some of Jesus's final words to the disciples in Galilee before He ascended into Heaven.

    Note: Although both verses 44 and 48 begin with the Greek particle deh, translated into the English "and", the Greek word doesn't necessarily mean a continuation.

It should not be surprising that the so-called contradictions in the resurrection accounts are trotted out without a single reference to the possible solutions that can very plausibly and naturally explain them. All too many people seem to want the Gospel accounts to be a myth. Why? I do not know. When they are told that their very lives are at stake, one would imagine that people would not be as quick to scoff.

And, I might add, that none of the reconciliation attempts on this page are a "frantic" attempt to "explain away some of the countless inconsistencies that exist in the four canonical Gospels" which Rabbi Tovia Singer so confidently proclaims. [11]

Much to the contrary, the claim of contradictions galore only works for those accustomed to having their food pre-chewed for them and are thus disinclined do to any serious thinking for themselves. They make little effort to try and make any sense of the four accounts choosing instead to allow a surface reading dictate their beliefs.

It will be a very expensive mistake. See Chapters The Message of the Bible and The Warning of The Bible

Continue on to Part 10: The Bible, Then and Now
Not only do the number of manuscript copies of the New Testament far surpass the number of copies of any other ancient document, but the New Testaments 6,000 full, or partial, Greek manuscripts, the roughly 8,000 Latin translations, the copies and fragments in various other languages, and the copious quotes by early church writers, make the New Testament the best authenticated ancient document... miles ahead of any of the others. Additionally, the length of time between the original Biblical document and the earliest copies is the shortest, by far, of any ancient writing.  CLICK HERE

Footnote I

    soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him,  (2) and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, (3)  and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:1-3)

    There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41 NASB)

    And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. (Luke 23:27 NASB)

    Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  (Matthew 27:55-56 NASB) [PLACE IN TEXT]

Footnote II

 As a by the way and of no consequence to this topic, it is interesting that Matthias is never again specifically mentioned in the New Testament. On the contrary it is Paul who spoke of himself as an equal with the rest of the apostles as his appointment was by the will of God Himself. It is Paul that wrought miracles and wonders which were one of the "signs of an apostle". Paul's apostleship is constantly affirmed throughout the New Testament while Matthias' is consistently ignored, which makes one wonder if, in electing Matthias, the disciples had got ahead of themselves and it was Paul who was the Lord's choice. One has to remember that the Matthias was chosen before the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, before which Peter was well known for acting first and thinking later. Anyway, it is possible the disciples chose to hold the election because they remembered Jesus' words "ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" in Luke 22:30. They could have believed that there had to be twelve disciples to sit on the twelve thrones. [PLACE IN TEXT]

End Notes
[01] More on Mark 16. http://skeptischism.com/skepticismfirst/2014/05/12/mark-16/

[02] Joshua J. Mark. Herodotus. http://www.ancient.eu/herodotus/

[03] ibid.

[04] Herbert C. Casteel. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. College Press: 1992, 2nd rev.; p. 211.

[05] Rabbi Tovia Singer. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? What is the Evidence for the Resurrection?

[06] Aorist Ancient Greek. http://www.wikisearch.net/search?q=Future+tense&page=15

[07] Rabbi Tovia Singer. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? What is the Evidence for the Resurrection?

[08] Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 123.

[09] Walter M. Chandler. The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer's Standpoint. Vol. 1.  New York: 1925, pp. 29-33. Online Here...
AND http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/The_Trial_of_Jesus_from_a_Lawyers_Standpoint_1000584287/67

[10] Dr. Thomas L. Constable. Notes on Matthew. 2015 Edition http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/matthew.pdf

[11] Rabbi Tovia Singer. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? What is the Evidence for the Resurrection?


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