EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS: PART THREE
Critics and skeptics have had a field day with the accounts of events associated with the women visiting the tomb and the subsequent appearances of Jesus. They see irreconcilable inconsistencies and outright contradictions in how the Gospel authors report these events. Therefore, some NT scholars have concluded these accounts can’t be trusted to provide an accurate picture of what actually occurred. Because of this, some have concluded the accounts of the empty tomb and the recorded appearances of Jesus are bogus and these events didn’t occur at all. It is concluded these accounts are nothing more than folklore.
So what are we to make of such claims? Are there irreconcilable inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb and the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus? Do apparent inconsistencies in the reporting of events associated with the resurrection place into question the validity of the resurrection itself?
Let's begin to take a careful look at what critics of the resurrection believe are inconsistencies and contradictions that place the validity of the resurrection in doubt. We will begin with what Paul wrote as to the sequence of post crucifixion appearances of Jesus to His followers.
As covered previously in this series, the Gospels record it was women who initially found the tomb to be empty and it was women who are reported to be the first to see Jesus alive after having been known to be dead. Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes the following:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul provides a sequential order of the post crucifixion appearances of Christ. Paul writes that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve, then to over 500 at the same time, then to James and then to Paul himself.
Paul makes no mention of it being women who first discovered the tomb to be empty nor does he mention anything about Jesus first appearing to the women. As previously discussed, many NT scholars believe the Gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD, while Paul’s letters were written in the 50’ AD. Since Paul did not mention the empty tomb per se or the involvement of the women, some scholars believe these events didn’t occur. It is believed these events were fabrications added to the Gospel accounts years after Paul wrote his letters and are part of what they believe is the mytholization of Jesus.
However, as already discussed in this series, the evidence is strong for the Gospels having been written prior to AD 70. Even if it could be shown the Gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD, it is apparent the authors of the Gospels relied on information handed down to them by eyewitnesses to the events they report on. Such eyewitness reports would have included information about the empty tomb and involvement of the women.
So why didn’t Paul say anything about the women? It must be understood that when we read Paul we are reading letters he wrote to various Church congregations. We are in essence reading someone else’s mail. When writing a letter you are not going to necessarily state every detail associated with what it is you are writing about. You my be very specific about some things and generalize other things. It should be obvious Paul knew about the empty tomb as we see Paul powerfully teaching Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. His preaching about the risen Jesus presupposes His belief that the tomb was empty.
Some believe Paul may have been unaware of the women’s involvement in these events. Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians that he was reporting on things handed down to him. Maybe what was handed down to him did not include information about the women. Others believe Paul shared the first century cultural norms that saw women as unreliable witnesses which led him to not recognize the testimony of the women.
We can only speculate as to why Paul doesn’t mention the women. To conclude, however, that because Paul doesn’t mention the women the Gospel accounts of the women’s involvement is fictional is quite a stretch.
We must be careful when reading the scriptures that we do not take too wooden of an approach to what is written. By wooden approach I mean we must not treat the writers of scripture as robots who aren’t allowed to ever generalize about a thing, never allowed to round something off and never allowed to use discretion as to what information they include or exclude about an event.
All writers, including scriptural writers, sometimes make generalized statements. When you generalize, you may not be totally accurate as to every detail of what you are writing about. Does this mean that the whole of what you are writing about should be placed into question? Does this mean that the whole of what you write should be dismissed as being unreliable? Does this mean your overall creditability should be questioned? For example, Paul says Jesus appeared to the twelve.
Why would Paul say Jesus appeared to the twelve? Subsequent to the crucifixion, there were only eleven left of the group of twelve that had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. After the betrayal, Judas had committed suicide and his replacement Matthias wasn’t chosen until after the ascension of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke all speak of Jesus appearing to the eleven after the crucifixion.
Surely Paul must have known about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent suicide. So how could Paul say Jesus appeared to the twelve? Apparently Paul was generalizing. Since the group of men that had accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry was twelve in number, Paul simply used that number to designate the remaining eleven that Jesus appeared too after his resurrection. Was this totally accurate? No it wasn’t. Does this mean we shouldn’t believe Paul’s report of Jesus appearing to the disciples? Should this place into question the validity of Jesus appearing to the eleven disciples as reported by Matthew, Mark and Luke? Does Paul saying twelve when there was only eleven somehow destroy Paul’s creditability? Since the synoptic Gospels report Jesus appeared to the eleven and Paul says He appeared to the twelve, does this discrepancy between the synoptics and Paul mean we can’t be sure Jesus appeared to His disciples? Some critics of the NT jump all over discrepancies such as these and conclude the NT narrative is unreliable.
I find it strange that some NT scholars take this very wooden approach to the scriptures. They identify an inaccurate statement or two by a scriptural writer and conclude the writer can’t be trusted. Unless parallel accounts of the same event are reported to occur in exactly the same way, they question whether the event happened at all.
This is certainly a phenomenon we see relative to the recorded accounts of the resurrection and post crucifixion appearances of Jesus. Some NT scholars dismiss these accounts as fraudulent because they don’t match each other on a one to one basis. Because they see what they believe are inconsistencies and contradictions in these accounts, they conclude the writers are not reliable reporters of the events they are writing about and we can’t be sure the events happened.
Some NT scholars believe that because there are differences in some of the details of the Gospel accounts of the events associated with the discovery of the empty tomb, we can’t rely on these accounts to accurately reveal what took place. Because of these differences, it is sometimes concluded the reports concerning the empty tomb and other events associated with the resurrection can't be trusted and these events never happened. This is akin to two people witnessing an accident and because they give differing accounts of some of the details of the accident, it is concluded the accident never happened. The absurdity of such approach should be apparent.
Let’s continue now by systematically investigating the accounts of events associated with the empty tomb and see if there are differences in these accounts that place at risk the validity of these events happening. Let’s begin by looking at the differing reports as to the number and the configuration of the women who showed up at the tomb early the first day of the week after the crucifixion.
Women at the tomb:
Matthew 28:1: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
Mark 16:1-2: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
Luke 23:55-56: The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Luke 24:1,9: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. Verse 9: It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others....
John 20:1: 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.
Matthew records that it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who came to visit the tomb after the Sabbath was over. Mark adds Salome to the mix and Mary the mother of James. It is very possible Mark’s Mary, the mother of James, is the “other Mary” that Matthew speaks of although we don’t know this for sure. Matthew's Mary could have been Mary the mother of Jesus or Mary the wife of Clopas, both of whom are seen as being at the crucifixion (John 19:25).
Luke initially identifies the women who came to the tomb as those who had come with Jesus from Galilee. Later in his narrative he identifies some of these women as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others who were present with them. Some believe Luke’s Joanna is Matthew’s Salome as some people in scripture go by more than one name. However, there is no direct evidence for this. Luke speaks of a Joanna in Luke 8:8 as the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household. Whether this is the same Joanna we don’t know.
John mentions only Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb. John names no one else. Some see this as very strange and believe it raises questions as to the reliability of the four accounts of women at the tomb.
In looking at these four accounts of the women visiting the tomb, it is clear that these accounts do not present the same configuration of women visiting the tomb. Some scholars see this as damaging to the reliability of what is recorded. However, it must be understood that historical writers often record accounts of events and selectively mention the names of people who were at the event. This does not reduce the overall validity of what was written about the event. This is no different than I being witness to an accident and reporting on various people being there while someone else reporting on the same accident lists others being present that I may have overlooked, wasn’t aware of or simply choose not to mention.
There is nothing contradictory in the accounts of who visited the tomb as some critics of these accounts contend. No one Gospel author challenges the creditably of another Gospel author by stating that a certain women named by another writer wasn’t present at the tomb. We simply have different writers mentioning different women who were there.
It is instructive that Luke writes that it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told the Apostles about the empty tomb. The indication is that there were a number of women involved in the discovery of the empty tomb in addition to the named women. It is also instructive that even though John focuses on Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb and reporting the empty tomb to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, John's narrative strongly indicates others were at the tomb as well. This is evident from what John reports Magdalene saying to Peter and the other disciple. Here is what she says:
John 20:2: 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!"
Magdalene is quoted as saying "we don't know where they have put him." While some claim John sees only Magdalene at the tomb, it is apparent from John’s quote of Magdalene that John was in reality identifying other women being at the tomb as well. He just doesn't name them. This makes John’s account coordinate well with the synoptic Gospels as to there being multiple women at the tomb.
The fact the four Gospel writers provide differing accounts of which women were at the tomb takes nothing away from the validity of this event happening. What we are simply seeing is different writers selecting different configurations of women visiting the tomb. Rather than placing into question the validity of the women at the tomb story, the different listings of women actually give greater attestation to this story. There could be reason to suspect the validity of the women at the tomb accounts if they were exactly the same. Accounts that are exactly the same can suggest collusion between writers which can raise suspicion as to the validity of what is reported.
An earthquake and a rolling stone:
In addition to concerns about the different groupings of women reported by the Gospel writers, some believe there is serious conflict between Matthew’s account of the flow of events associated with the empty tomb and that of Mark, Luke and John. Let’s take a look.
Matthew 28:1-4: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
After reporting that the two Mary’s came to the tomb, Matthew tells of a great earthquake occurring and the angel of the Lord rolling the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. The guards are frightened to death.
While on the surface it looks like Matthew is saying the earthquake and the stone being rolled away occurred at the time the women arrived at the tomb and the women witnessed this event, the accounts of this event in Mark, Luke and John show the stone was already rolled away when the women arrived.
Mark 16:2-4: Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
Luke 24: 1-2: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
John 20:1: 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.
Is Mathew telling a different story than Mark, Luke and John? This is very unlikely. It is very reasonable to conclude that Matthew was speaking retrospectively about the earthquake and the angel rolling the stone away. This would be no different than I writing about firefighters arriving at the scene of a fire and adding to my narrative that a huge explosion had occurred. I wouldn’t be saying the fire fighters were there when the explosion happened. I simply would be making a statement as to what apparently caused the fire.
Matthew appears to be simply making a statement as to what caused the stone to be rolled away and not that the women witnessed the earthquake and stone being rolled away. That could have occurred hours earlier. Once again there is no reason to believe there is contradiction or inconsistency between these accounts. It is apparent Matthew is reporting, as does Mark, Luke and John, that the stone was rolled away and sometime later the women arrived.
How many angels where there?
Critics of the resurrection insist there are irreconcilable discrepancies between the Gospel accounts as to whom and how many individuals spoke to the women at the tomb.
Matthew 28: 5: The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
Mark 16: 5: As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Luke 24: 3-8: but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
John 20:11-12: 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.
Matthew’s reports one angel speaking to the women. Mark speaks of a young man dressed in a white robe that spoke to the women. Luke reports it was two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning that spoke to the women. John speaks of there being two angels that spoke to Mary Magdalene.
It should be apparent that all four writers were reporting that it was supernatural beings that were speaking to the women. Since Luke and John report it was two we must conclude there were at least two. The fact that Matthew and Mark write of one doesn’t mean there could not have been two or more. Identifying only one angel present at the tomb doesn’t preclude there being additional angels present.
If several journalists attend a political fund raiser and differ as to who they report spoke at the event, such differences in reporting would not be considered contradictory. One reporter may mention only one of the speakers, another reporter may mention two speakers and a third reporter may mention three or more. The fact that one journalist only mentions one speaker doesn’t mean there weren’t other speakers. Because other journalists report more than one speaker doesn’t mean the journalist that reported on just one speaker is in error. Journalists are at liberty to selectively choose what information they want to include in their reporting of an event.
The same can apply to the Gospel accounts of the number of angelic Being’s that appeared to the women. Matthew and Mark may simply have had information handed down to them that an angel had spoken to the women and so they wrote their accounts from that perspective. Luke and John may have had information handed down to them that two angels were present at the tomb and they wrote from that perspective. This in no way takes away from the reality of this event. This is not the presenting of contradictory accounts of how many angels were at the tomb. This is simply using author license to include or exclude information.
The important dynamic here is that we have four independent writers report there were supernatural beings present at the tomb that spoke to the women and informed them Jesus had raised from the dead. All four writers are in agreement as to there being communication between angelic beings and the women. The fact that two writers report there was one angel and the other writer’s report there were two angels in no way places into question whether this event occurred as some critics suggest.
The post crucifixion appearances of Jesus:
Critics contend there are series discrepancies in the accounts of just where, when and to whom Jesus made His initial post crucifixion appearances. Let’s begin looking at these supposed discrepancies by examining where it was that Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection.
Galilee or Jerusalem:
Matthew and Mark record the women who visited the tomb were instructed by angels to tell the disciples Jesus has risen from the dead and is going ahead of them into Galilee where they will see Him. On the surface it appears Galilee would be the first place Jesus would show Himself alive to His disciples after being resurrected. Matthew records the eleven see Jesus in Galilee.
Mathew 28:7: 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."
Mark 16:7: go, tell his disciples and Peter, `He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"
Matthew 28:16-17: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Luke and John report Jesus appeared to the disciples the same day the tomb was found to be empty while they were still in Jerusalem. Luke and John say nothing about Jesus meeting the disciples in Galilee.
Luke tells the story that on the same day the empty tomb was discovered; two disciples of Jesus were walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus joins them in their walk but they don’t recognize Him as being Jesus. They tell Jesus that some of the women went to the tomb early that morning only to find the body of Jesus missing.
These two disciples go on to tell Jesus the women told them they had seen a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive. These two disciples then tell Jesus that some of their companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said but Jesus they did not see. To make a long story short, these two disciples finally come to realize it is Jesus they are talking to. They immediately return to Jerusalem to tell the eleven what they had just experienced. While there visiting with the eleven, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst.
Luke 24:33-36: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
This is still the first day of the week, the day the tomb was found to be empty. It is apparent the eleven had not gone to Galilee even though the women had earlier visited them with news of the empty tomb and the angelic message that Jesus is risen and is going ahead of them to Galilee. Luke, however, shows Jesus appears to the eleven and those with them while they are still in Jerusalem. John clearly shows Jesus appearing to the disciples the evening of the first day of the week with the same greeting of "Peace be unto you."
John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"
It is apparent the eleven were hiding out in Jerusalem in fear that they may be sought out by the religious leaders and face a fate similar to that of Jesus. Jerusalem was a walled city with a number of gates to the surrounding countryside. You had to pass through one of these gates to get outside the walls. The disciples may have been fearful about trying to leave the city and be recognized and stopped at one of the gates.
It is clear that Matthew and Mark show the women being instructed to tell the disciples they will see Jesus in Galilee. This appears to be instruction based on what Jesus told His disciples before His crucifixion.
Matthew 26:32: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
Mark 14:28: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
Galilee is around 70 miles from Jerusalem and it is estimated it would have taken the disciples around 17 hours to walk there. It is clear from Luke and John that Jesus appeared to them the same day the tomb was found to be empty. They would not have been able to travel to Galilee in time to see Jesus in Galilee on the first day. It is clear from the accounts in Luke and John that Jesus appeared to the eleven sometime after the women visited the eleven with news of the empty tomb. This appearance of Jesus to the eleven would have been near the end of the first day as it is reported to have occurred after the Emmaus disciples reported to the eleven their encounter with Jesus. This encounter is seen as occurring near the end of the first day (Luke 24:29).
It is clear the disciples were still in Jerusalem when Jesus appeared to them. Why didn't the disciples immediately go to Galilee upon hearing from the women Jesus would meet them there? Wouldn't they have been excited to see Jesus alive after knowing He had been put to death? Would they not have found some way of getting out of Jerusalem despite their concerns about being recognized by the Jewish leadership? Let's consider several explanations as to why they didn't immediately leave for Galilee.
Matthew and Mark record that the women were instructed by the angels to tell the disciples Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Did the women follow this instruction and give this angelic message to the disciples? We can't be sure they did. There is nothing in the Gospel accounts saying they actually told this to the disciples. In there excitement they may have failed to mention this to the disciples. When the angels appeared to the women, they told them not to be afraid. Yet it is apparent from the scriptural accounts that they were very anxious about the things they were experiencing. It is certainly possible their anxiety could have influenced what they told or failed to tell the disciples.
Matthew 28:8: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Mark 16:7-8: 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.
They are said to be afraid and yet filled with joy. The Greek word here translated “afraid” is phobos. Phobos appears 47 times in the NT scriptures and its cognate phobeomai appears 93 times.
In looking at how this word is used in context throughout the NT, it is clear that to be phobos is to be apprehensive, uneasy, anxious, frightened, terrified etc. Matthew wrote that the guards were phobos on seeing the angel. The angel told the women to not be phobeomai. They were apprehensive and anxious about what they had just experienced. They experienced a mixture of joy and fear. They felt joy at being told Jesus was alive and at the same time apprehensive as to whether what they were experiencing was the real thing. It could be that they didn’t tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus would meet them.
However, there may be a more plausible explanation as to why the disciples didn’t go to Galilee. While it is possible the women failed to tell the disciples about Jesus meeting them in Galilee, it is more probable they did share this information with the disciples. Luke indicates the women told the disciples everything the angels told them.
Luke 24:9: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
So why didn't the disciples find a way to immediately go to Galilee? Would not their fear of the Jews be outweighed by their desire to see Jesus alive? Wouldn't they be excited and eager to see the risen Lord? Wouldn't they rush to Galilee to be reunited with the man they knew to be dead but was now said to be alive? I believe the scriptures tell us why they didn't immediately go to Galilee. They didn’t go to Galilee because they didn't believe what the women told them about Jesus being alive. Luke makes this very clear.
Luke 24:11: But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
They didn’t run off to meet Jesus in Galilee because they didn’t believe He was in Galilee. That is the indication when considering Luke’s straightforward remark about the disciples considering what the women told them to be nonsense.
Mark, or someone who later added to Mark's account, may provide additional witness to what Luke wrote. While Mark 16:9-23 is not found in the oldest extant Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, it must be noted that if this narrative reflects oral tradition or lost written material that came to be incorporated in later manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, it gives additional support to the doubt that characterized the disciple’s response to the reports of Jesus’ resurrection.
Mark 16:9-13: 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. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
If there is creditability to what we see written in the disputed verses of Mark 16:9-13, not only did the disciples not believe the women but neither did they believe the two disciples who reported seeing Jesus while walking in the country which appears to be an allusion to the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus
The disciples were hiding out in a locked room someplace in Jerusalem for fear of the Jews. It wasn’t until Jesus personally appeared to the disciples that they believed He was alive. As previously noted in our discussion of the hallucination/apparition theory, the disciples simple did not believe Jesus was resurrected until they saw Him alive and were able to communicate with Him, touch Him and eat with Him.
Taking into account all scripture that pertains to the Jerusalem appearance of Jesus to the disciples, it appears reasonable to believe Jesus initially appeared to them in Jerusalem rather than Galilee because of their unbelief in His resurrection. The disciple weren’t immediately going to Galilee because they didn’t have reason to. There was no sense of urgency to leave Jerusalem and return to Galilee because they simply did not believe the claims of those who said they had seen Jesus alive.
The circumstantial evidence showing the disciples unbelief as to the resurrection of Jesus provides a reasonable basis for why they did not go to Galilee upon learning from the women that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. While we can’t be certain of this being the reason for their failure to immediately go to Galilee, this is a reasonable explanation in view of what we know about the post crucifixion mentality of the disciples. Therefore, one should not conclude there is an irreconcilable inconsistency between the Gospels writers regarding the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus. In view of the disciples skepticism as to what the women told them, It appears quite logical to conclude Jesus appeared to the eleven in Jerusalem out of necessity. These disciples weren’t going to travel to Galilee anytime soon because they didn’t believe Jesus was alive to meet them in Galilee.
While the disciples skepticism provides a plausible explanation as to why the disciples didn't rush to Galilee upon hearing the women's testimony, it should be noted that there is a plausible explanation as to why Matthew and Mark say nothing about the Jerusalem appearances of Jesus. These two writers may have simple bi-passed the Jerusalem appearances of Jesus in their accounts and focused on the prophesied Galilee appearance.
Jesus had told the disciples He would meet them in Galilee after His resurrection. Neither Jesus nor the angels who spoke to the women said when after the resurrection Jesus would meet them in Galilee. There is nothing in what Jesus or the angels said about Jesus appearing to the disciples in Galilee that precludes Jesus from appearing to the disciples in advance of His appearing to them in Galilee. When Matthew writes that Jesus met the eleven in Galilee, he may simply have been jumping ahead to the time the disciples did indeed return to Galilee where Jesus met them.
Matthew 28:16-17: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (Greek: distazo).
Some believe this statement by Matthew contradicts Luke’s and John’s account of Jesus appearing to the eleven while they were still in Jerusalem the day the empty tomb was discovered. Matthew records that when seeing Jesus in Galilee, some of the eleven still doubted. It is questioned how some could doubt when seeing Jesus in Galilee after they had already seen Him in Jerusalem as reported by Luke and John What was there to doubt? Jesus was standing right in front of them. Did some doubt it was actually Jesus standing before them? Some see this as an inconsistency between Matthew's account and Luke's and John's account.
The Greek word translated “doubt is distazo. It appears only twice in the NT, here in Matthew 28:17 and also in Matthew 14:31 where Peter has doubts about his ability to walk on water when he sees the wind. The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon defines distazo as to have doubt within oneself, to have doubt concerning something, to hesitate in doubt.
Could some have had doubt within themselves that it was really Jesus standing before them? It is possible. Some may still have been unsure that the man standing before them was the same man they knew had been put to death by the Romans. Remember, their paradigm was of a Messiah that would restore the Davidic kingdom and not a Messiah who would be crucified and resurrected. They weren’t expecting a crucified/resurrected Messiah.
It is interesting that after Jesus’ resurrection He spent forty days with the disciples teaching them about the kingdom and yet just prior to His ascension into heaven, the disciples asked Jesus if at this time He was going to restore the Kingdom to Israel.
Acts 1:6: So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
It is apparent their focus was still on an imminent to them restoration of the Davidic kingdom and maybe some had internal doubts as to whether Jesus was the one to accomplish such restoration. This, of course is speculation as Matthew doesn’t elaborate on exactly what it was that some doubted. We shouldn’t assume, as I have seen some scholars do, that the disciples who doubted, doubted the resurrected Jesus was really Jesus. The doubts may have been related to other concerns.
In connection with the matter of the disciples doubting, we need to return to the account of the Emmaus disciples seeing Jesus and returning to Jerusalem to tell the eleven and those with them about their experience.
Luke 24:33-35: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
This narrative appears to say the eleven told the Emmaus disciples that Jesus had appeared to Simon. There is no other reference to this in the Gospels. However, as already noted in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provides a sequence of appearances of Jesus and lists Jesus appearing first to Peter and then the twelve. When it was that Jesus appeared to Peter is not recorded in scripture. It must have been sometime after the women reported the empty tomb and the angel’s reporting Jesus had risen from the dead. We know from Luke the disciples didn’t believe the women.
If the disputed account in Mark has validity, it raises a question. Mark reports the eleven didn’t believe the Emmaus disciples or Mary Magdalene’s witness to having seen Jesus alive. If the eleven already knew that Jesus had appeared to Simon, why wouldn’t they believe the report of the Emmaus disciples or the witness of Magdalene? Since the Markian account from verse nine to the end is questionable, we can’t be certain of its accuracy. We can only use it provisionally. However, the scriptures reveal an overall slow acknowledgement by the disciples that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
This being the case, it is certainly conceivable that there was continuing doubt even after Peter, the Emmaus disciples, Mary Magdalene and possibly other of the women reported to the eleven they had seen Jesus alive. We know Thomas didn’t believe the reports of Jesus being alive until he touched His wounds a week after Jesus initially appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem (John 20:24-28). Convincing the eleven and others that Jesus was resurrected appears initially to have been a hard sell. Maybe this is why Luke writes of Jesus giving many convincing proofs He was alive.
Acts 1:3: After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Bart Ehrman questions why Jesus would have to give many convincing proofs that He was alive. Wouldn’t one proof be enough he asks. Ehrman views Acts 1:3 suspiciously. He feels Acts 1:3 raises questions about the validity of the resurrection in that it indicates insecurity among the followers of Jesus as to He being the same person they new had been crucified. Well, maybe it did take many convincing proofs to persuade the disciples that the man claiming to be the resurrected Jesus was indeed the same man they had spent several years with before the crucifixion.
As covered previously, the disciples were not expecting the Messiah to be crucified let alone resurrected. That was not their paradigm of the Messiah. Given the revealed mentality of the disciples subsequent to the resurrection, it is not hard to believe they were slow to acknowledge that the man they knew to be dead was alive.
In Part Four of this series we will deal with what some New Testament scholars believe is an outright contradiction. Some NT 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.