Contradictions in the Resurrection Account

A Swiss Army knife with dozens of crazy "blades"Since Easter was yesterday, I’d like to rerun a post about the resurrection story.

How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection? Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).

When Jesus died, did an earthquake open the graves of many people, who walked around Jerusalem and were seen by many? Only Matthew reports this remarkable event. It’s hard to imagine any reliable version of the story omitting this zombie apocalypse.

The different accounts of the resurrection are full of contradictions like this. They can’t even agree on whether Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover (John) or the day after (the other three).

  • What were the last words of Jesus? Three gospels give three different versions.
  • Who buried Jesus? Matthew says that it was Joseph of Arimathea. No, apparently it was the Jews and their rulers, all strangers to Jesus (Acts).
  • How many women came to the tomb Easter morning? Was it one, as told in John? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)?
  • Did an angel cause a great earthquake that rolled back the stone in front of the tomb? Yes, according to Matthew. The other gospels are silent on this extraordinary detail.
  • Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark) or two (Luke and John)?
  • Was the tomb already open when they got there? Matthew says no; the other three say yes.
  • Did the women tell the disciples? Matthew and Luke make clear that they did so immediately. But Mark says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And that’s where the book ends, which makes it a mystery how Mark thinks that the resurrection story ever got out.
  • Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb? That makes sense—the tomb was empty and Jesus’s body was gone. At least, that’s the story according to John. But wait a minute—in Matthew’s account, the women were “filled with joy.”
  • Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus? Of course! She’d known him for years. At least, Matthew says that she did. But John and Luke make clear that she didn’t.
  • Could Jesus’s followers touch him? John says no; the other gospels say yes.
  • Where did Jesus tell the disciples to meet him? In Galilee (Matthew and Mark) or Jerusalem (Luke and Acts)?
  • Who saw Jesus resurrected? Paul says that a group of over 500 people saw him (1 Cor. 15:6). Sounds like crucial evidence, but why don’t any of the gospels record it?
  • Should the gospel be preached to everyone? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to “teach all nations.” But hold on—in the same book he says, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5). Which is it?

Many Christians cite the resurrection as the most important historical claim that the Bible makes. If the resurrection is true, they argue, the gospel message must be taken seriously. I’ll agree with that. But how reliable is an account riddled with these contradictions?

I’ve seen Christians respond in three ways.

(1) They’ll nitpick the definition of “contradiction.” Contradictions, they’ll say, are two sentences of the form “A” and “not-A.” For example: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” and “Jesus was not born in Bethlehem.” Being precise helps make sure we communicate clearly, but this can also be a caltrop argument, a way of dodging the issue. These sure sound like contradictions to me, but if you’d prefer to imagine that we’re talking about “incongruities” or “inconsistencies,” feel free.

(2) They’ll respond to these “inconsistencies” by harmonizing the gospels. That is, instead of following the facts where they lead and considering that the gospels might be legend instead of history, they insist on their Christian presupposition, reject any alternatives, and bludgeon all the gospels together like a misshapen Swiss Army knife.

  • How many women were at the tomb? Obviously, five or more, our apologist will say. When John only says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, he’s not saying that others didn’t come, right? Checkmate, atheists!
  • Why didn’t all the gospels note that a group of 500 people saw Jesus (instead of only Paul)? Why didn’t they all record the earthquakes and the zombie apocalypse (instead of only Matthew)? Our apologist will argue that each author is entitled to make editorial adjustments as he sees fit.
  • Was the tomb already open or not? Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus or not? Did Jesus remain for 40 days or not? Should the gospel be preached to everyone or not? Did the women tell the disciples or not? Was Jesus crucified the day after Passover or not? Who knows what he’ll come up with, but our apologist will have some sort of harmonization for these, too.

Yep, the ol’ kindergarten try.

(3) They’ll try to turn this weakness into a strength by arguing that four independent stories (the gospels aren’t, but never mind) shouldn’t agree on every detail. If they did, one would imagine collusion rather than accurate biography. Yes, biography and collusion are two possibilities, but another is that this could be legend.

Let’s drop any preconceptions and find the best explanation.

Photo credit: ThinkGeek

Acknowledgement: This list was inspired by one composed by Richard Russell.

Related posts:

Related links:

Rationalizing Away the “Canaanite Problem” (2 of 2)
God’s Kryptonite
Rationalizing Away the “Canaanite Problem”
Christianity Is a Hospital, and Sinners Are Ill (Or Not)
About Bob Seidensticker
  • Ehijator I. Josef

    To understand the Nature of Resurrection of Mashiach, you must understand the Gospel of the Resurrection; You must appreciate the time of Restoring all Things as it is revealed to prophets and spoken of by Paul, the Apostle [Acts Ch. 3 v 19 – 21], You must know the relevance of the Forty Days and Forty Nights, and why Mashiach Fasted Forty Days only to meet a Temptation and so continued his fast past the forty. You must also know the ideal of Mount Zion, and how it relates to the Resurrection and then the Salvation. The Resurrection is the Hope of a Believer, that Churches don’t know, confirms that the apostasy is set, For the Resurrection which all men shall experience, is the purpose of the manifestation of the Messiah, because the Resurrection leads to Salvation and that is why the Hope of Salvation is entwined into the Hope of a Better Resurrection, On the day of the Lord, the day of the Signs of the Son of Man, the day that shall Burn with fervent Heat, when Hell and Earth shall merge, and all will awake from the dust in the valley of the shadow of death.
    The Valley of the Shadow of death is a real place, which was revealed to Job, Jacob and David, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and even Paul the Apostle, and to Peter and all the Disciples, as it is revealed to all true. All the Just that shall resurrect at the Resurrection of the Just, when all things shall be restored, at the Resurrection of the Just, all Just Men shall wake into a cover of the Darkness and of Dark Clouds and Tumult, fervent Heat, Stars falling {Angels} Holy and Unholy, the Noisome Pestilence, the Thunder, the Famine; this is known as the Sign of the Son of Man, Hell shall be opened and Principalities and Powers shall rise from Hell to stop the ascension of the Resurrected Just and to avert them reaching the Light that parteth, the Dayspring which is Yehoshuah Mashiach, if ou can consider this prophecy you may understand the mystery of the Resurrection: “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” At the Resurrection of the Just, those who lack the Holy Ghost in their souls shall fail and fall into Hell, because whatever a Man worships or may have worshipped on earth i.e. the things in his heart, they will manifest to him when he shall be resurrected, some will see the Pride, most shall see the Mammon, many will see the Ego, Carnal Uncleanness, the Slaughterer shall appear to Murderers, but the sons of Elohiym shall see the Angels of their souls and if they have lived in a manner that their Angels are strong enough in Righteousness, so that the angels can only attain if the men they shall carry in the ascension, have themselves lived righteously; to ascend and traverse the Valley of slaughter [Jer Ch. 19 v 16] where they shall fight the Principalities, the Powers and Rulers of the Darkness, hence it is called a Day of Battle, when the Righteous must command morning by faith, or fail and fall as stars will fall.
    If the man and his angel, that shall be sent for the Gathering [Matthew 24 v 31] have the Name of Truth and the Spirit of Light, and if the Man have Love and Charity that casteth out Fear, then they shall rise to Zion, the Mount of Elohiym, and go further to the North where Holiness shall receive them in the Glorification. Learn from the Story of Elijah who ascended, Noah who was saved, Lot who was saved, Moses who received the promise of the salvation of the seed of Jacob, and the Messiah, who transfigured and ascended as the son of Elohiym, those who live by the word and the Name in the Spirit of the Name, shall wake up with the full Armor to fight on the Evil Day, when we all shall resurrect, and these shall have enough power for the duration of the Darkness, because the Suun shall become Black and the Moon shall not Give Light, till the morning when Yehoshuah shall appear and Zion ,those that have the Religion but follow the world shall be cut off, these are the lambs that shall fall with the goats and the rams, on the day of slaughter “The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea”, this is why the Lord came with the gospel of the Resurrection so that the sons may know to prepare for the passage, because at the passage, thereshall be a separation of the things above and the things below, this shall be the separation of the Goats and Sheep, before the righteous shall rise to the gate of Mount Zion, to be justified by the Justifier i.e. if truly they were virtuous servants of the Truth they shall become Sons of Elohiym, and this is why Satan is teaching the Rapture through the goats, who shall be cut off in the darkness into darkness, reserved for the second resurrection, the Resurrection of the unjust, to be judged in Righteousness by Righteousness .
    I am an itinerant son of Elohiym, called to teach these things in these Latter Days, made a destitute of the covenant of sacrifice, to the Glory of Elohim, through Mashich, our Hope of Salvation and I circulate a free Newsletter which I can send to you on demand, where these issues that are the core of the Gospel of our Salvation, shall be expounded and elaborated in prophecy as the Master and the Teacher determines, I think, this will assist you understand these things better, may Elohiym Bless You.

    • MNb

      The only thing I need to understand is that there is no god and hence Jesus was not his son. Then I can safely skip everything you write after the first two sentences.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Most people here want evidence, not theology.

    • Rik Holets

      You can’t use the source to answer the question.

  • Rik Holets

    It is illogical and invalid to use the source for the answers

  • Josh Zeringue

    I’m not saying I buy the apologists’ rebuttal, but it is logically possible, right? Maybe you could clarify your rebuttal to his rebuttal? Thanks!