Before we get any farther into the subject of Christ’s resurrection, it’s a good idea to review the historical events as they are recounted in the Bible. As His followers hurried about the city after Christ’s Resurrection, it was a chaotic day. Skeptics argue that perceived inconsistencies in the Bible indicate it to be false. Is it possible to reconcile the four Gospels?
- The Gospels can’t keep their stories straight!
- How many women went to the tomb and when did they leave?
- How many angels visited the tomb?
- Did Jesus appear to all the women or just Mary Magdalene?
The unbelievers will always find ways to make the truth a lie. But when we listen to the Scriptures and take to heart that the Word of God is the truth, putting all the pieces together, the glory of the risen LORD shines!
THE TIMING OF VISIT
When did the women go to the tomb, and how many went?
- The Gospels refer to different times and name different women who arrived at the tomb.
- Matthew states that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” came to the tomb as it “began to dawn” (Matthew 28:1).
- Mark adds Salome to the group and claims that they came “very early in the morning” (Mark 16:1–2).
- Luke agrees that it was “very early in the morning” and names “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” as those who came to the tomb (Luke 24:1, 24:10).
- John wrote that “Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark” (John 20:1).
Early morning or while it was still dark?
SOLUTION: John may have described when the women initially left for the tomb, while the other Gospels described when the women arrived. Bethany is two miles away (John 11:18).
THE NUMBER OF VISITORS
Along with the timing of the visit, another alleged contradiction is the number of visitors. Reading the gospels, it seems that they cannot really accurately account for the number of visitors equally. But we can say that at least five women went to the tomb and each gospel writers didn’t exclusively indicate the names of the visitors.
SOLUTION: Although John named only Mary Magdalene, he is clearly aware that she was not alone. Reporting to Peter and John, she said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2)
Was the tomb already open?
Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2, and John 20:1 state outright that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb prior to the women’s arrival.
“And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2).
SOLUTION: Matthew does not claim that this event occurred as the women arrived. Instead, he provides helpful details about what had already happened.
THE ANGELIC APPEARANCES
How many angels appeared?
Was there one angel at the tomb, as described in Matthew 28:2–7 and Mark 16:5–7, or two angels, as stated in Luke 24:4–7 and John 20:12? Were there young men or angels?
There were two angels. Neither Matthew nor Mark claims that only one angel was at the tomb.
Their accounts do not show the complete number. The fact that Mark and Luke refer to the angels as “men” is not a problem because angels frequently appeared in human form and were designated as such elsewhere (Genesis 18:1–2; Daniel 9:21).
ORDER OF APPEARANCES
So how can both accounts of women seeing Jesus be accurate?
How could Jesus first appear to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9) and then to the other women? As they headed for the tomb, why didn’t Mary, Peter, and John cross paths with the other women who were going to tell the disciples?
The key to resolving these dilemmas is to understand that Peter and John were probably not staying in the same place as the other disciples. Remember, although all the disciples “forsook Him and fled” at His arrest (Matthew 26:56), Peter and John were brave enough to enter Jerusalem to find out what would happen to Jesus (John 18:15). Of course, Peter fled in shame at the rooster’s crow (Matthew 26:75), but John was present at the Cross (John 19:26). At some point, John and Peter met up, and they were likely staying together in Jerusalem when Mary Magdalene came to the door on Sunday morning.Answers in Genesis
Here is the attempt to harmonize the order of appearance:
- Mary Magdalene and the other women travel from Bethany to Jesus’ tomb (Mark 16:1, Matthew 28, John 20:1, Luke 24:1).
- Nearing Jesus’ tomb, the women notice the stone rolled away. Mary Magdalene leaves to tell Peter and John (John 20:2) while the other women continue to the open tomb.
- The other women return to Bethany, stopping first in the city to report what they have seen to Cleopas and other followers of Jesus. (Luke 24:13-35).
- Mary Magdalene returns (racing) to Jesus’ tomb with Peter and John (John 20:4).
- Peter and John return to the house after seeing the empty tomb.
- First Appearance: Mary Magdalene stays behind, and Jesus appears to her outside the tomb (John 20:12-16, Mk 16:9).
- Second Appearance: Jesus appears to the other women as they are on their way back to Bethany (Matthew 28:9).
- The women returning to Bethany arrive and report what they have seen to eight of the disciples. The eight disciples travel to the house where John and Peter are staying.
- Third Appearance: Jesus appears to Clopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).
- Fourth Appearance: Jesus appears to Peter (time and location unknown; it may have been prior to the Emmaus road appearance) (Luke 24:34) .
- Fifth Appearance: Jesus appears to John, Peter, and eight disciples. (Thomas is not there.) (John 20:19-25)
- Twice to the eleven apostles—first without Thomas (John 20:19-25) and then with him (John 20:26-29)—and again to seven of His disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14)
- He continued to appear to people over a forty-day period (Acts 1:3). Eight days after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples again, and this time Thomas was present (John 20:24–29).
- He even appears to His unbelieving half brother James (I Cor 15:7).
- He appears “to one untimely born” (I Corinthians 15:8), Saul (later Paul) of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-19)
- The very man who had pledged himself to the destruction of Christianity becomes its most ardent propagator and defender (Acts 9:1-2; I Corinthians 15:10).
After Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, Luke said that He Jesus showed Himself alive “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). Take note, that the proofs are infallible. Inspired by the Spirit, Luke has given us an account that cannot go wrong and in fact, the truth! Skeptics will undoubtedly continue to challenge the Bible and ignore sensible solutions to the problems they raise. We maintain that, regardless of how many objections nonbelievers make, Christians can be confident that the Bible contains no inconsistencies. This is the Word of God! Its inerrancy is based on its infallible Author!
Finally, we have the trustworthy word of Scripture that our Lord appeared to a large number of witnesses before His ascension, both individuals and “more than five hundred brethren at one time” (I Corinthians 15:6).
For further reading on harmonizing the alleged contradictions on the resurrection account please visit: https://answersingenesis.org/jesus/resurrection/christs-resurrection-four-accounts-one-reality/
4 thoughts on “The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection”
This is really good stuff!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Really helpful, especially for those who claim alleged contradictions against the Bible.
LikeLiked by 1 person