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4th April, 2009

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Are the resurrection accounts contradictory?

You don't have to look far to find claims that the gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection and appearance to His disciples are riven with inconsistencies. Take this comment from an atheist web site:

Christians point to Jesus' resurrection as one of the things which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. After all, the founders of other religions. are all dead; Jesus conquered death. Or did he? For something so important and central to the message, theology, and very nature of Christianity, it's curious that the gospel authors would all have such radically different stories about what happened.

One Muslim writer says this:

Some Christians claim that these variations "compliment" (sic) each others.   This is absurd to say the least, because the contradictions of missing characters, events, and/or places are obvious, and the so-called "variations" only create confusion and further prove that they weren't authored by One Author. because we don't know based on the narrations above what really took place!  Different versions, different events and different contradicting accounts.

In spite of the above writer's mockery of the idea, these accounts most definitely can be taken to complement each other - as long as one remembers that none of them provides a minute-by-minute account of everybody's comings and goings. No account says, for example, "Mary Magdalene walked along Main St while Salome took the covered pathway to get to the garden". Characters are "missing" only because their presence may not be mentioned in a specific account. It is true that "we don't know. what really took place"; to track the movement of every individual involved, minute-by-minute, would require an account at least as long as any one gospel!

Does Matthew contradict Mark when the former mentions only Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" while the latter includes Salome? Does John clash with both inasmuch as it only mentions Mary Magdalene? Does the Mark account, which says the women came "when the sun had risen", make a mockery of John's account which says Mary Magdalene went "while it was still dark"? We respond "No

way!" to all of these questions. If an author chose not to mention certain individuals that does not make his account erroneous. The accounts provide all the information we need to draw a basic, faith-building outline of events at this critical juncture in salvation history.

We won't make any attempt here to reconcile every difficulty; rather, we'll outline a simple concept to help resolve the difficulties. The key is found in the first verse of Luke, which says that "they" and "certain other women. came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared". The antecedent of "they" is found in 23:55, which says, "And the women who had come with Him from Galilee. observed the tomb and how His body was laid". The general picture becomes quite clear; lots of ladies had decided to meet at Jesus' tomb early in the morning for the purpose of anointing His body. With many ladies involved, all coming from different parts of the city, and planning to meet there "early" or "at sunrise" you don't need me to tell you what would have happened. Mary Magdalene, perhaps on her own or with other/s not mentioned in John's account, arrived "while it was still dark". Her pre-dawn arrival jibes fully with her deep love for Jesus. Others arrived later, some possibly not getting there until an hour or more after Mary, "when the sun had risen" (Mark).

For reasons impossible to know, different ladies experienced different angelic visitations (compare Matthew 28:5 with Luke 24:4). No contradiction there at all.

Possibly Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb two or three times over a couple of hours. In fact, it seems inconceivable that she would not have done so. The John account gives the distinct impression that when she discovered that the door of the tomb had been rolled away she immediately ran to tell Simon Peter. Possibly the Matthew version, which mentions Mary coming with others as the day "began to dawn" is referring to her second visit to the tomb. Who can say for sure? The point is this: whatever the details may be of the various comings and goings — who arrived when with whom — the accounts do not contradict each other. We can trust the gospel accounts implicitly. What really counts, of course, is the unbelievable saving truth they contain - He had risen!

Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-14

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