Post-Resurrection Discrepancies

Question
Why do the post-Resurrection accounts seem to have so many discrepancies?
Answer
I suspect you are wondering who saw Jesus first, how many angels there were, etc.

According to John 20:1ff., the order of events was as follows:
  1. Mary Magdalene went to the empty tomb.
  2. Mary Magdalene told the disciples Jesus' body was missing.
  3. Simon Peter and John went to the empty tomb.
  4. Simon Peter and John left.
  5. Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and saw two angels and Jesus.
  6. Mary Magdalene told the disciples she had seen Jesus.
  7. The disciples didn't believe Mary Magdalene's report.
Luke 24:1ff. lists the order of events as follows:
  1. Mary Madgalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women who had come from Galilee with Joseph of Arimathea went to the empty tomb and saw two angels.
  2. Mary Madgalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women who had come from Galilee with Joseph of Arimathea told the disciples what they had seen.
  3. The disciple's didn't believe the women's report.
Matthew 28:1ff. lists the following order of events:
  1. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the empty tomb and saw an angel.
  2. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary encountered Jesus.
  3. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary told the disciples.
Mark 16:1-8 lists this order of events:
  1. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the empty tomb and saw and angel.
  2. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did not tell the disciples.
Mark 16:9ff. is probably not original to the text, but notice that it does not contradict Mark 16:1-8. The addition of Mark 16:9ff. indicates one possible reading of Mark 16:1-8: those verses describe Mary Magdalene's first visit to the tomb, not her second (compare John's account). John's account, in turn, does not deny that Mary Magdalene had company. He merely tells the story from her perspective without listing the other women. John also does not deny that Mary may have seen an angel during her first.

The details of Luke's and Matthew's accounts correspond without difficulty to the details of Mary's Magdalene's second visit to the tomb listed by John. The fact that some accounts mention one angel while others mention two is easily explained by saying that there were two angels, but that Matthew and Mark wrote only of the angel who spoke these particular words. Neither Matthew nor Mark denied that any other angels were present.

The details of Mark's account correspond without difficulty to Mary Magdalene's first visit to the tomb mentioned by John, except for the statement that the women didn't tell anyone what they had seen. John claims that Mary told the disciples about her first visit to the tomb, while Mark says that she told no one. It is certainly possible, however, that Mary at first told no one, but then told the disciples after her fear had left her. The fact that Mary's first report to Peter does not match the angel's report to her may simply reflect the fact that Mary did not believe the angel at first.

There are other possible solutions to these apparent discrepancies as well. The important thing to keep in mind is that all these accounts are very short, and none attempts to give us the full picture. Moreover, none of these accounts contradicts another. For example, "there was an angel" does not contradict "there were two angels." To establish a contradiction, one must first establish that two accounts speak of the same visit to the tomb, and then establish that one account denies what another affirms. If one account said "there was only ever one angel at the tomb," while another said "there were two angels at the tomb," that would establish a contradiction -- but such is not the case.

The burden of proof in these instances is on the critic of the Bible. The critic must demonstrate that the only possible reading of the texts necessitates a contradiction. No critic has ever been able to do this. The most they have been able to do is to insist that the correct interpretations of the passages are contradictory. Their fatal flaw is that they cannot prove that these contradictory interpretations are correct.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.