Resolution to Resurrection Paradoxes

The following are answers to a skeptic concerning paradoxes between the resurrection accounts.

First understand a very simple concept. If someone asks me what I had for lunch and to one I say a sandwich, but to another I answer an apple, would I necessarily be lying?  Are these contradictory? Not if I ate both an apple and a sandwich. It's this basic concept which resolves alot paradoxes concerning the resurrection accounts.

Furthermore each author selected those particular events which seemed to him most important, passing by intermediate incidents. The following summary is given by Robinson (Gospel History, pp. 447, 448):

"At early dawn on the first day of the week, the women who had attended on Jesus, viz. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and others went out with spices to the sepulchre, in order further to embalm the Lord's body. They inquired among themselves who should remove the stone. On their arrival they find the stone already taken away; for there had been an earthquake, and an angel had descended and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it, so that the keepers became as dead men for terror. The Lord had risen. The women knowing nothing of all this, are amazed; they enter the tomb, and find not the body of the Lord, and are greatly perplexed. At this time, Mary Magdalene impressed with the idea that the body had been stolen away, leaves the sepulchre and the other women, and runs to the city to tell Peter and John. (Peter and John appear to have lodged that night in a place separate from the other apostles - the apostles having "scattered" as the prophecy in Isaiah had foretold). The rest of the women remain in the tomb, and immediately two angels appear, who announce unto them that Jesus was risen from the dead, and give them a charge in his name for the apostles. They go out quickly from the sepulchre, and proceed in haste to the city to make this known to the disciples. On the way, Jesus meets them, permits them to embrace his feet, and renews the same charge to the disciples; but their words seem to them as idle tales; and they believe them not. Meanwhile, Peter and John had run to the sepulchre; and entering in had found it empty; but the orderly arrangement of the grave-clothes and of the napkin convinced john that the body had not been removed by violence or by friends; and the germ of a belief arises in his mind that the Lord had risen. The two returned to the city. Mary Magdalene, who had again followed them to the sepulchre, remained standing and weeping before it; sees Jesus, who gives to her also a solemn charge for his disciples."

However Mark's gospel says that Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus. Thus I would make one change in this account and say that Jesus did not appear to the other women on the way until after he first appeared to Mary Magdalene.

And furthermore Luke condenses alot of events together saying for example, "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." Luke 24:9,10 And while this is true it is really two events for Mary was not with the others all the time and had a separate testimony which nonetheless confirmed their report, having seen the Lord. Thus also Peter visited the tomb a number of times. First when Mary told him and John that the tomb was empty and then again after being told the Lord had risen. Furthermore there is an additional account not recorded directly of Peter seeing the risen Lord before the other apostles which is alluded to in Luke 24:34 and in 1Cor 15:5 The gospels record bits and pieces of these accounts.

What time did the women visit the tomb?
Matthew: "as it began to dawn" (28:1)
Mark: "very early in the morning . . . at the rising of the sun" (16:2, KJV); "when the sun had risen" (NRSV); "just after sunrise" (NIV)
Luke: "very early in the morning" (24:1, KJV) "at early dawn" (NRSV)
John: "when it was yet dark" (20:1)

It's possible that Mary Magdalene - the only woman specified by John - came first alone to the sepulchre. If so,  she may have come "early, when it was yet dark"; while the other women did not arrive till "the rising of the sun" Or, of the two parties of women, Mary Magdalene with her friends may have come at the earlier, the others at the later time.

Otherwise in the loose popular sense, the expression "rising of the sun" may denote the early dawn when the rays of the coming sun just begin to redden the east. Thus, in Pslam 104:22 it is said, respecting young lions, "The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens"; yet it is well known that wild beasts do not wait for the actual appearance of the sun; at the break of day they retreat to the lairs. Upon any of the above hypotheses, there is no discrepancy in the case.

Who were the women?
Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:1)
Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome (16:1)
Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women (24:10)
John: Mary Magdalene (20:1)

All of the above

What was their purpose?
Matthew: to see the tomb (28:1)
Mark: had already seen the tomb (15:47), brought spices (16:1)
Luke: had already seen the tomb (23:55), brought spices (24:1)
John: the body had already been spiced before they arrived (19:39,40)

Nicodemus embalmed the body at his burial, but the women wanted to do so as well. But being unprepared and as the Sabbath was upon them they had to wait till after the Sabbath to buy the spices. Yes, they visited the grave more than once, which is not unusual when someone dies.

Was the tomb open when they arrived?
Matthew: No (28:2)
Mark: Yes (16:4)
Luke: Yes (24:2)
John: Yes (20:1)

Actually Matthew should be "Yes".

"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." Matt 28:1,2
In the second sentence Matthew is referring to what occurred just prior to the women's arrival.

Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
Matthew: One angel (28:2-7)
Mark: One young man (16:5)
Luke: Two men (24:4)
John: Two angels (20:12)

All of the above. There were two separate incidences concerning angels. Matthew and Mark mention the first. John mentions the second. Luke condenses these just summarizing what happened. In other words lets say that at one time person A sees one angel and at another time and place person B sees two angels one of whom was seen previously by A, then in summary we can say that A and B together saw two angels. That's what Luke is saying.

Where were these messengers situated?
Matthew: Angel sitting on the stone (28:2)
Mark: Young man sitting inside, on the right (16:5)
Luke: Two men standing inside (24:4)
John: Two angels sitting on each end of the bed (20:12)

They weren't standing still like statues. They were moving around. The Matthew account is speaking of what the guards saw. The women entered the tomb and suddenly the angels appeared beside them. When Mary came the second time with Peter and John that's when she saw the two angels sitting on each end of where Jesus' body formerly laid.

What did the messenger(s) say?
Matthew: "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you." (28:5-7)
Mark: "Be not afrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you." (16:6-7)
Luke: "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." (24:5-7)
John: "Woman, why weepest thou?" (20:13)

All of the above. The Matthew and Mark quotes are virtually identical. Realize of course when quotes are made they are to be understood as "he said in effect", which accounts for differences in the details. But the angel said more than the quotes given by Matthew and Mark. Luke records more of what he said. But the John account is speaking of a different event, as I mentioned above.

Did the women tell what happened?
Matthew: Yes (28:8)
Mark: No. "Neither said they any thing to any man." (16:8)
Luke: Yes. "And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest." (24:9, 22-24)
John: Yes (20:18)

Mark 16:8 is just speaking of their immediate reaction. As they ran to tell the disciples they said nothing to anyone else along the way. (Obviously if he meant to say that they literally never told anyone, then neither could their testimony have been recorded. But since it was recorded we must take what Mark said in a different sense.)

When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?
Matthew: Yes (28:7-8)
Mark: Yes (16:10,11)
Luke: Yes (24:6-9,23)
John: No (20:2)

The account in John is referring to her leaving the tomb before receiving witness from the angels. This is why when she returned the angel gave witness to her individually. She went to Peter and John first, who were staying in a place separate from the other apostles. The account in Mark 16:10,11 is referring to arriving at the tomb with Peter and John and it is there that Jesus appears to her. Then she went to tell all the apostles.

When did Mary first see Jesus?
Matthew: Before she returned to the disciples (28:9)
Mark: Before she returned to the disciples (16:9,10)
John: After she returned to the disciples (20:2,14)

As I mentioned above, Mary came to the tomb twice on Sunday. After she told Peter and John the body was missing she returned to the tomb and saw Jesus and then went to the apostles to tell them she saw Jesus. Realize again that the writers were writing in a condensed style, not recording everything that happened. But taken together they are not contradictory. They synoptics don't focus on Mary in particular as John did. And thus they don't record the details particular to her account.

Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?
Matthew: Yes (28:9)
John: No (20:17), Yes (20:27)

It is to be noted that different Greek words are employed in the two cases. In John 20:17 he's telling her not to cling on to him because he's going to be leaving. He is not objecting to physical touch, but rather of the idea of clinging on to a departed soul. For though he is resurrected, it is not time for his earthly rule. Rather he is to ascend to heaven. But in John 20:27 he is speaking of proving by physical touch that he is not ethereal. He is not a ghost. That's quite a different meaning

After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?
Matthew: Eleven disciples (28:16)
Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to eleven (16:12,14)
Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to eleven (24:13,36)
John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) (20:19, 24)
Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. (Twelve? Judas was dead). (I Corinthians 15:5)
(In the beginning of Acts they replaced Judas and thus were twelve.)

After the women he appeared to all these people - and to 500 more. But who was the first? Matthew skips the account of the two disciples. But it was them who saw him first. Mark and Luke speak of the same even and the same two disciples. Notice in Luke 24: 33,34 "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." (Speaking of Simon Peter) Thus Peter had seen the Lord prior to their encounter. This is consistent with Paul's account of Peter being the first.

Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?
Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) (28:16-17)
Mark: To two in the country, to eleven "as they sat at meat" (16:12,14)
Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. (24:31, 36)
John: In a room, at evening (20:19)

He appeared to them in all the above cases. But which was first? The appearance in Galilee occurred later and it was for their commissioning. They were in Jerusalem before they went to Galilee. The other accounts are referrring to the same event in Jerusalem at the evening meal.

Did the disciples believe the two men?
Mark: No (16:13)
Luke: Yes (24:34--it is the group speaking here, not the two)

But notice in the Luke account in verse 41 "And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement" Which is not inconsistent with the Mark account.

What happened at the appearance?
Matthew: Disciples worshipped, some doubted, "Go preach." (28:17-20)
Mark: Jesus reprimanded them, said "Go preach" (16:14-19)
Luke: Christ incognito, vanishing act, materialized out of thin air, reprimand, supper (24:13-51)
John: Passed through solid door, disciples happy, Jesus blesses them, no reprimand (21:19-23)

I assume by "the appearance" you're referring to a single event. But many of these accounts are referring to different events. Again as I said, the Matthew account occurs in Galille much later, which Mark could also be alluding to in a condensed fashion. The Luke account includes the event on the road to Emmaus, which is a different "appearance" than when he appeared to the Eleven in Jerusalem, which is a different appearance than that in Galilee. You're not really comparing apples with apples But taken together these are some of the things which occurred at his appearances - no doubt along with others things occurring as well which aren't recorded. In fact John writes in John 21:25 25 "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

Did Jesus stay on earth for a while?
Mark: No (16:19) Compare 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday
Luke: No (24:50-52) It all happened on Sunday
John: Yes, at least eight days (20:26, 21:1-22)
Acts: Yes, at least forty days (1:3)

Again as I said a number of these are written in a condensed style. But in fact the events were taken over many days. Taken together they represent what happened.

Where did the ascension take place?
Matthew: No ascension. Book ends on mountain in Galilee
Mark: In or near Jerusalem, after supper (16:19)
Luke: In Bethany, very close to Jerusalem, after supper (24:50-51)
John: No ascension
Paul: No ascension
Acts: Ascended from Mount of Olives (1:9-12)

Once again if an event is not mentioned by some authors, does that mean that such an event did not take place? Luke speaks of the ascension in his second volume - also called the book of Acts "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach   until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 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." Acts 1:1-3 ... "After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." Acts 1:9  (Or were you unaware that Luke wrote the book of Acts?) And Paul does mention his ascension  "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe." Eph 4:10

But one final thing. It is also written "'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" Luke 16:31 For the skeptic hardened of heart there is no amount of proof sufficient to convince such a person, for their intuition and conscience have been corrupted to blind them to the truth. And they lack the humiliy necessary to respond in faith.  But for the honest skeptic, whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, and "the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11

Steve Amato

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources