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   EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS: PART FOUR

 

Contradiction between John and the Synoptics:

       Some New Testament scholars see irreconcilable differences between how Matthew, Mark and Luke report the activities of Mary Magdalene and how John reports her activities in connection with finding the tomb empty and seeing Jesus after the crucifixion. Let's again look at these accounts.

        Matthew records that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrive at the tomb and are told by an angel that Jesus was raised from the dead.  The angel then tells the women to go and share this information with the disciples and tell the disciples Jesus will meet them in  Galilee.  Matthew gives the impression that Jesus appears to the women as they are on their way to see the disciples. Jesus is seen as telling the women to tell his brothers to go to Galilee where they will see Him. 

       Matthew 28:5-10: The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: `He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

        Mark doesn't show Jesus appearing to the women but only reports the women arriving at the tomb and being told by by a young man that Jesus has risen from the dead and they are to tell His disciples He will meet them in Galilee.

       Mark 16: 5-8: As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, `He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 

       Some critics point out that if the women said nothing to anyone, doesn’t this contradict Luke’s account of the women telling the disciples about everything they had experienced at the tomb.  

       Luke 24:9: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

       Here is another example of that wooden approach to scripture I discussed earlier in this series. Mark’s comment could easily be interrupted to mean the women didn’t say anything to anyone while on their way to see the disciples and not that they said nothing to the disciples.  There is no need to conclude that Luke’s and Mark’s accounts are contradictory.

       As previously noted, there are twelve additional versus in Mark that do not appear in the oldest existing Greek manuscripts of the NT.  Therefore, it is believed these verses were added at some point years after Mark’s Gospel first appeared.  However, these verses may reflect written material from early on that became lost.  Since, as we will see, these verses pretty much correspond to what John wrote about Mary Magdalene, I will reference them provisionally as a possible corroboration of what John wrote.  

       Mark 16: 9-11: When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

       Luke reports it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others who found the tomb empty and reported this to the disciples who are shown to not believe the women.  Luke reports that Peter ran to the tomb to determine if what the women said was true and upon finding the tomb empty came away wondering what had happened. Here is what Luke reports the angels telling the women.

       Luke 24:6-9: He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

       Luke 24:11-12: But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. 

       Luke reports the women leaving the tomb and reporting to the eleven and the others what they had heard from the angels. Peter leaves the group and runs to the tomb.  Luke, as is true with Mark and unlike Matthew, says nothing about Jesus appearing to the women while on their way to see the eleven. Now let's look at how John reports the discovery of the empty tomb.          

       John 20:1-2: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

       John 20:9: (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead).

       John speaks only of Mary Magdalene being at the tomb. At this point in his narrative, John says nothing about angels being at the tomb or angels speaking to Magdalene. John simply writes that after Magdalene finds the tomb empty, she runs and tells Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved about the empty tomb.  They come and verify it is empty and return to their homes. John indicates that Peter and the other disciple didn’t believe a resurrection had occurred.    

       John reports that after the two disciples leave, Magdalene continues to stand outside the tomb crying and eventually looks into the tomb and sees two angels in white seated where Jesus had lain.  They ask why she is crying and she complains to them that they have removed Jesus’ body and she doesn’t know where they have laid Him.  She then turns around and Jesus is standing behind her but she does not recognize Him. Some have questioned how it is Magdalene did not recognize Jesus.  It must be remembered that the last image Mary had of Jesus was His battered and bloody body hanging on a cross. She had come to the tomb to treat the dead body of this man.  She was not expecting to see Jesus aive.

        Jesus asks why she is crying and who she is looking for and she thinks Jesus is the gardener and asks if he knows where they have put Jesus.  John writes that Jesus calls her by name at which point she recognizes who He is and Jesus tells her the following:   

       John 20:17-18: Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, `I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.' '' Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her (NKJV).   

       Matthew, Mark and Luke have Magdalene, along with other women, visiting the tomb and then running to tell the eleven about their experience at the tomb. Luke adds to his report that Peter came running to the tomb after the women visit the disciples.  John has Magdalene finding the tomb empty and running to tell Peter and an unnamed disciple.  John records that Peter and the unnamed disciple run to the tomb, verify it is empty and leave. John records that Magdalene stays at the tomb and two angels appear to her and then Jesus appears to her and tells her she should go and tell his disciples He was returning to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God.

       Here is where there is an apparent contradiction between the synoptic Gospel reports of what happened and the Gospel of John. John reports Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb, finding it empty and then running to tell Peter and the unnamed disciple.  She tells them she doesn’t know where they have put Jesus which tells us she has not yet seen Jesus alive.  

       Matthew’s account seems to show Jesus appearing to Magdalene and the other Mary while on their way to visit the disciples which according to Luke’s account was the group of eleven which would have included Peter. Therefore, Matthew’s account indicates Magdalene first saw Jesus before reporting the empty tomb to Peter.  John’s account shows Magdalene first seeing Jesus after reporting the empty tomb to Peter. 

       Matthew 28: 8-10: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."    

       Matthew’s account seems to show Jesus appearing to Magdalene and the other Mary while on their way to report to the disciples the empty tomb and the angelic message about Jesus being alive.  Matthew appears to be saying the women, including Magdalene, were visited by Jesus before they reported to the disciples.  The disciples would have included Peter as Luke shows it is to the eleven the women take the message of the empty tomb. 

       John, on the other hand, shows Jesus first appearing to Magdalene after she reports the empty tomb to Peter and after Peter visits the tomb. In fact John has the angels appearing to Magdalene after Peter and the unnamed disciple visit the tomb. This would seem to contradict Matthew, Mark and Luke who all indicate the angels appeared to the women before they visited the disciples which according to Luke is clearly seen as happening before Peter goes to see the tomb.   

Summery of events:

       Matthew, Mark and Luke have the women, including Magdalene, being visited by angels after which they run to tell the eleven the tomb is empty and that angels reported Jesus had risen from the dead. Luke shows Peter visiting the tomb after the visit to the eleven by Magdalene and the other women. 

       John, on the other hand, says nothing about Magdalene being visited by angels who tell her to tell the disciples Jesus is risen. Magdalene appears totally unaware of Jesus being risen as she is seen as complaining to Peter about not knowing what had become of the body of Jesus.  John records angels first visiting Magdalene after her visit to Peter and after Peter visits the tomb and not before as seen in the synoptic Gospels.

       Matthew indicates Jesus appears to the women, including Magdalene, while they are on their way to visit the eleven which would include Peter and which would be before Peter visits the tomb as Luke clearly shows.  John, on the other hand, has Jesus appearing to Magdalene not before but after Magdalene visits the disciples and after Peter and the unnamed disciple visit the tomb.  As can be seen, the synoptic Gospels recorded sequence of events relative to Mary Magdalene doesn’t appear to match John’s recorded sequence of events.   

      Suggested solutions:

       It must be pointed out that the apparent contradiction between these accounts all stem from assuming Matthew is saying Jesus appeared to the women while on their way to give the disciples news of the empty tomb and the massage received from angels that Jesus has been resurrected.  Most apologetic attempts to harmonize John’s account of Magdalene’s experience at the tomb with the synoptic Gospels are based on this interpretation of Matthew. 

Did Magdalene arrive before the other women?

      Some have suggested Magdalene came to the tomb before the other women. This is based on John reporting that it was still dark when Magdalene came to the tomb.  Matthew reports it was at dawn and Mark reports it was at sunrise when the women came.  John saying it was dark has led some to believe Magdalene came earlier to the tomb than did the other women.

       Some see the course of events as follows: Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark and found it empty.  She then runs to tell Peter and the unnamed disciple both of whom returned with her to the tomb.  Peter and the unnamed disciple verify the tomb is empty and leave.  Magdalene stays at the tomb and two angels and Jesus appear to her after which she runs to tell Peter that Jesus has appeared to her.  She then returns to the tomb with the other women.  Those taking this approach use the disputed passage of Mark 16:9-11 as possible additional evidence for believing Magdalene came to the tomb by herself ahead of the other women. 

        Mark 16:9-11: When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

       It is believed this passage is an independent account that was later added to Mark’s Gospel and that it supports John’s account of Magdalene being the first to discover the empty tomb and the first to see Jesus after his resurrection and report this information to the eleven.

       This proposed solution is very problematic.  Mark reports that Magdalene and the other women were discussing with each other who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb. If Magdalene had come earlier to the tomb and found it empty, she would already know the stone was rolled away.  Secondly, Mark and Luke report Magdalene came with several women to the tomb to apply spices to the dead body of Jesus.  It would make no sense for Magdalene to be doing this if she had come to the tomb earlier and already knew Jesus was alive.  

Was there a gap in time?

      Some Christian apologists see a gap of time between the women, including Magdalene, finding the tomb empty and the appearance of the angels.  Luke writes that the women entered the tomb and upon not finding the body, were wondering about this and it is while they were wondering about this, two men appeared at their side.  

      Because there may have been a gap of time between finding the tomb empty and the appearance of the angels, it is suggested that Magdalene, after finding the tomb empty, immediately left the tomb and ran to Peter and the unnamed disciple.  She did this before the angels appeared to the other women who stayed at the tomb?  This is seen to explain why she expressed to Peter her belief the body had been removed rather than tell Peter the body was resurrected. 

       However, this solution doesn’t work either. Luke shows Peter leaving to go to the tomb after the women came from the tomb and told the eleven disciples about finding the tomb empty.  Peter was one of the eleven.  Luke clearly shows Peter leaving for the tomb after hearing not only from Magdalene but the other women as well. Luke shows Mary Magdalene was part of this group of women and not that she was appearing before Peter alone. 

       Luke 24:9-12: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

       It should also be noted that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, speak of the women finding the tomb empty and being told by angels that Jesus was alive after which some of their companions visited the tomb. The two companions appear to be a clear reference to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved visiting the tomb. This appears to collaborate Luke's account of Peter running to the tomb after being visited by the women.

       Luke 24: 22-24: In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

       As a point of clarification, some see the women saying it was a vision of angels they saw as meaning angels didn’t actually appear to them but they only saw them in vision.  Those that believe the women only saw the angels in vision are quick to suggest the women and disciples didn’t really see Jesus either but only saw Him in vision.  They see the women having a vision as being the same as having a dream, hallucination or apparition. 

       The Greek word translated “vision” in this passage has the basic meaning of “the act of exhibiting oneself to view.”  It is the same word Paul uses when he speaks of Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus as seen in Acts 26:10.  It’s the same word used to describe the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah while in the temple to announce His wife would give birth to John the Baptist.  All indications are that these are actual appearances and not someone having a dream, hallucination or apparition.  

 A Reasonable Solution:     

       Now let’s get back to the problem at hand.  Is there a solution to the apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John and the synoptics?  As stated above, the apparent conflict between John and the synoptics is based on reading Matthew in such manner as to believe he is saying Jesus appeared to the women before the women delivered the news of the empty tomb to the disciples.

       Matthew 28:8-10: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

       It is only in Matthew we find indication the women met Jesus on their way to see the disciples.  It is instructive that in the accounts of the women sharing their empty tomb experience with the disciples, there is no hint of them telling the disciples Jesus appeared to them. It is also apparent from Luke that the two disciples walking to Emmaus knew about the empty tomb and the women being told by angels that Jesus was alive. Yet here too, there is no mention they knew that Jesus had appeared to the women.

        Luke 24:22-24: In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

       They report how the women amazed them by telling them they had seen angels who told them Jesus was alive.  They also speak of two of their companions visiting the tomb which appears to be a reference to Peter and the unnamed disciple. Yet nothing is said about the women seeing Jesus.  

       If Jesus had appeared to the women on their way to see the disciples, one would certainly expect the women would have reported to the eleven and to the two disciples walking to Emmaus that Jesus had appeared to them.  Yet there is nothing written that indicates the women told the eleven and the other disciples with them they had seen Jesus alive.  All indications are the women only told the eleven that they found the tomb empty and that angels told them Jesus was alive.

       Likewise, in reporting what the women said to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, Luke writes that the women report finding the tomb empty and angels telling them Jesus was alive but writes nothing about the women saying Jesus appeared to the women.     

       This strikes me as being rather odd.  If Jesus had appeared to the women prior to they communicating with the eleven, you would think they would have joyously shared their experience with the disciples.  Yet no mention is made of this.  This being the case, it appears very likely the women did not see Jesus before visiting the eleven.

       Let’s take another look at Matthew’s account of events associated with the women visiting the tomb.  Matthew reports Magdalene and the other Mary visit the tomb. Matthew then tells of an earthquake and an angel rolling the stone away.  Then Matthew speaks of the guards being scared to death and of the angel appearing and telling the women to go tell the disciples Jesus is raisin from the dead and they will see Him in Galilee.  Then Matthew says the following:

       Matthew 28:8-10: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

       At first glance it seems Jesus appears to the women while they are on their way to report the empty tomb to the disciples. The KJV certainly makes it look this way.

       Matthew 28:8-9: And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.  And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him (KJV).

       However, the phrase “as they went to tell his disciples” is not in the Greek and apparently was added by the KJ translators because this is when they thought Jesus appeared to the women..  Most translations do not include this phrase.

       Since there is no record of the women telling the disciples in Jerusalem or the Emmaus disciples that Jesus appeared to them, could it be Matthew is reporting an appearance of Jesus to the women that occurred after they visited the disciples and after Peter and the unnamed disciple visited the tomb?  Could the phrase “Suddenly Jesus met them” be an insert into the narrative and not be related to the previous phrase that shows the women hurrying away from the tomb.

       As already indicted earlier in this series, Matthew presents a rather eclectic account of events associated with the empty tomb.  He speaks of the women arriving at the tomb.  Then he speaks of the earthquake and the stone being rolled away which the other three Gospels report as occurring before the women arrive at the tomb. Matthew then reports an angel speaking to the women and the women running to the see the disciples. Then Matthew reports Jesus appears to the women. Then Matthew shifts gears and reports on the guards reporting to the religious leaders on what occurred at the tomb.  Then Matthew tells of Jesus appearing to the disciples in Galilee.  

       Since this account appears to provide a somewhat disconnected view of events associated with the tomb, it is certainly possible the appearance of Jesus to the women occurred after their visit to the disciples, after Peter’s visit to the tomb and after the women reported the empty tomb to the two disciples walking to Emmaus. 

       If this is the case, Matthew’s account would coordinate with John’s account which has Magdalene running to tell the disciples about the empty tomb, complaining that she doesn’t know where they have put Jesus and Peter running to verify the tomb was indeed empty.  It would also coordinate with John telling us Jesus appeared to Magdalene after Peter and the unnamed disciple left the tomb.

       John 20:2-3: So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.

       John 20:10-16: Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"   "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary."   She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).       

       Some may fine this explanation suspect because John has angels appearing to Magdalene after the visit to the disciples whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke have angels appearing to the women, including Magdalene, before their visit to the disciples.  However, there is nothing in the narrative that would prevent angels from appearing a second time to Magdalene and to the other women for that matter.  

       We know from John’s narrative that Magdalene came back to the tomb with Peter and the unnamed disciple and stayed at the tomb after Peter and the unnamed disciple left.  We don’t now from any of the Gospels accounts what the other women did after visiting the disciples.  Luke’s account of the Emmaus disciples reporting on how some of their women told them about their experience at the tomb could have occurred when the eleven were visited or it could have occurred later. We don’t know.  At any rate, it is certainly possible the women returned to the tomb at which time Jesus appeared to them around the same time He appeared to Magdalene. John only reports Jesus appearing to Magdalene.  This doesn’t preclude Jesus appearing to other of the women who may have returned to the tomb as well.

       The disputed verses in Mark’s Gospel teach that Magdalene was the first to see Jesus alive after the resurrection. 

       Mark 16:9-11: When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

       If this account has validity, it coordinates well with John’s account of Jesus first appearing to Magdalene  

       John 20:17-18: Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, `I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.' '' Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her (NKJV).

       To place this all in perspective, the sequence of events could have been something like this:  

       Magdalene with the other women visited the tomb and are told by angels to go tell the disciples Jesus is raisin and will meet them in Galilee. They do this and Peter and the unnamed disciple along with Magdalene return to the tomb.     Peter and the unnamed disciple verify the tomb is empty and return home. Magdalene stays at the tomb.  At some point the other women return to the tomb and at some point angels again appear at the tomb and Jesus appears to Magdalene and the other women as well. Magdalene runs to tell the disciples she has seen Jesus.  

      If Jesus did indeed appear to the women after they visited the disciples, it clears up any supposed contradiction between the synoptics and John. Since the synoptics give no indication the women witnessed to the eleven or to the Emmaus disciples that they had seen Jesus, it would appear reasonable to conclude Jesus did not appear to them until after their visit to the disciples.  While we can’t be certain this is how it all unfolded, this explanation brings harmony and coordination to the Gospel accounts and does show there are scripturally consistent alternatives to the skeptics charge that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between John and the synoptics. 

       Some NT scholars are convinced there are irreconcilable contradictions and inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts of events associated with the resurrection of Jesus. Scholars who take this approach often take too wooden of an approach to the scriptures or simple don’t do their homework in identifying reasonable alternatives to the supposed contradictions and inconsistencies. 

       When scholars fail to identify reasonable alternative explanations to supposed contradictions and inconsistencies, it leaves readers of their books and hearers of their lectures with incomplete knowledge of the possible dynamics involved in the matters being discussed.  This is unfortunate as it can lead to faulty conclusions.  I encourage everyone to carefully evaluate the validity of what they read and hear including the material presented on this website.   

       Readers of this Four Part series on the resurrection of Jesus many also be interested in associated essays on this website entitled Passover and the Crucifixion, Passover and the Exodus, Three Days and Three Nights and What happens after death