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.

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  • 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.
    Joseph
    therapturebook@reborn.com

    • 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.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined 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!

  • YoOhioGirl

    The Bible is clear that there were some doubt (Matthew 28:7) Mary Magdalene may have met the resurrected Christ, but the scripture doesn’t tell us she was aware of who he was according to the gospel of Matthew…. in the same manner she wasn’t aware in the gospel of John chapter 20 vs 14. She mistaken Him as a gardener. We do know, according to scripture, that the Lord’s resurrected appearance could be unrecognizable (Luke 24:13-16).

  • YoOhioGirl

    It is clear that, Joseph of Arimathaea with Nicodemus took the body of Christ down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in the sepulchre (Matthew 27: 57-60, Mark 15:43-46, Luke 23:53 and John 19: 39-42). They were both Jews and rulers (Mark 15:43 and John 3:1) and thus included in the mentioning of those in Acts 13:29 concerning the burial of Jesus…

    Obviously, Jesus couldn’t have been a stranger to the Jews and rulers who buried him if they also crucified him. Acts 13:27 teaches us that the people of Jerusalem, both citizens and leaders, didn’t recognize that Jesus was the Messiah of their scriptures, even though it is read every week. This may also have been true among some of his followers (note that when Christ asked His followers who do they think He is..only Peter is documented at that period of time as acknowledging/recognizing who Jesus was/is):

    Matthew 16:
    13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

    14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

    15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

    16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

  • YoOhioGirl

    Mary Magdalene own words in the Gospel of John testifies that she wasn’t alone when she arrived at the sepulchre:

    Chapter 20 vs 2:
    They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and WE (not I) know not where they have laid him.

  • YoOhioGirl

    Mark 16:1 gives us the identity of the three women who purchased spices, sometime after the sabbath ended (Saturday evening). The next scripture doesn’t give us the names of the women that actually went to the tomb on Sunday at sunrise. Looking at Luke 24:10.. We do not see Salome listed by that name as part of the women who been at the burial site, but the two Marys are…so it’s not clear if she made the travel with them. A closer look at John 20:2, you can see that Mary Magdalene, herself testified she wasn’t alone (WE {plural} know not where they have laid him).

  • YoOhioGirl

    Question: Could Jesus’s followers touch him? John says no; the other gospels say yes.

    Answer: Mary may have rushed to embrace him, for he told her not to touch him because he did not ascend to the Father yet (John 20:17). The Lord was not telling Mary she couldn’t feel Him with her hands, keeping in mind, she already did earlier (Matthew 28:9-“And they came and held him by the feet”). Physical
    touch wasn’t the issue, this is confirmed in John 20:27 when the Lord also
    invited Thomas to probe his open wombs.

    Jesus was telling Mary she could not adjoin herself to him yet. Mē mou haptou
    is the Greek phrase for “Touch me not”, it insinuates an emotional clinginess.
    With seeing the living Messiah, the scriptures seems to suggest that Mary
    Magdalene desired to keep the resurrected Lord with her, but Jesus informs
    her that He must ascend to God (John 20:17), where he would be more beneficial.

  • YoOhioGirl

    Question: 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.”

    Answer: With the elapsing of time (Luke 24:4-“And it came to pass”), The women’s
    jubilation (Matthew 28:8) was replaced with some confusion (Luke 24:4-“As they were much perplexed”).

  • YoOhioGirl

    Question: 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.”

    Answer: Inside the tomb was an angel sitting on the right side (Mark 16:5).
    The angel acknowledged that the women are looking for the body of Jesus
    and informed them that the Lord had risen (Mark 16:6 and Matthew 28:5&6).
    The ones that experienced this fled from the site, possibly passed the
    other women who may have been standing outside of the tomb (Luke 24:5-
    “bowed down their faces to the earth”..Keyword is earth), without saying
    a word to “them” and/or others (Mark 16:8) focusing only on disclosing the
    news to the disciples(Mark 16:10 and Matthew 28:8) in keeping with what
    was requested (Mark 16:7 and Matthew 28:7).

    Question: And that’s where the book ends, which makes it a mystery how Mark thinks that the resurrection story ever got out.

    Answer: The book doesn’t end with them fleeing, saying nothing. Mark 16:9 states that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first and she went and gave the message that the Lord is alive to others (Mark 16:10 & 11)..The book of Mark continues from there as well.

    • Otto

      With your apparent knowledge I am guessing you are aware that Mark ended with 16:8 and the rest was added at a later date.

      • YoOhioGirl

        I think we can “all” agree that the original writings are unknown? With that being a fact..we have no idea whether Mark intended to end with 16:8 or those documents are unfinished work or additions. And here lies the debate..

        • Otto

          The earliest documents of Mark are not ‘unknown’. The consensus of scholarly textual critics are that the earliest most reliable documents of Mark end at 16:8.

          But if you are saying that there could be an earlier version that is unknown, ok…then we don’t know. But by all apparent indications Mark ends there and the rest was added. If you want to take the “we don’t know approach” isn’t it a bit disingenuous to say…”The book doesn’t end with them fleeing, saying nothing….”? I mean that certainly gives the appearance that you do ‘know’ contrary to your take on it now.

        • YoOhioGirl

          YOU: The earliest documents of Mark are not ‘unknown’.

          ME: I said the original documents of Mark are not known…That is NOT the same as the earliest ones we currently have.

        • YoOhioGirl

          YOU:But if you are saying that there could be an earlier version that is unknown, ok…then we don’t know.

          ME:That is exactly what I’m sayin…because the earliest copies we know of are NOT the original copies..

          YOU: But by all apparent indications Mark ends there and the rest was added.

          ME: That’s your opinion based on the earliest known copies ending there…You assumed the rest were added. My opinion is differently…I believe the earliest known copies are unfinished work by copyists because over 90% of Greek manuscripts and its tradition include the longer version.

          YOU:If you want to take the “we don’t know approach” isn’t it a bit disingenuous to say…”The book doesn’t end with them fleeing, saying nothing….”? I mean that certainly gives the appearance that you do ‘know’ contrary to your take on it now.

          ME: We don’t know..that’s just a fact.. We are only basing our opinion on what’s available to us. You can no more prove those were addon as I can prove they were not..without either one of us having the original writings before us. That’s just a rational truth.

  • YoOhioGirl

    Question: Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark) or two (Luke and John)?

    Answer: Visions of angels were seen by the women (Luke 24:23). Some saw one and some saw two. Before their arrival there was an earthquake,
    in which an angel descended from heaven came and rolled backed the stone
    and sat on it (Matthew 28:2). Inside the tomb was an angel sitting on the right side (Mark 16:5) which they saw when they entered. Outside the tomb was two angels standing by those without (Luke 24:4). When Mary Magdalene returned to the sepulchre, she saw two seated angels inside, one at each end of the body where Jesus was laid (John 20:12).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      In one gospel, he eats fish; in another, he materializes in a room with a closed door.

      I guess it’s a mystery.

      • YoOhioGirl

        I don’t see the mystery in him having the ability to eat fish and materializing in a closed door room?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          One says that he has a physical body, and one says that he has a spirit body. Shouldn’t he have just one or the other?

        • YoOhioGirl

          Not all flesh is the same (1 Corinthians 15:39 & 40).

          In other words: Christ has a heavenly body that has the ability to eat and materializes in a room with a closed door.

          2nd Corinthians 5:3
          For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies (flesh).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, Paul is big on the spiritual body/earthly body distinction. I don’t see that in the gospels.

        • YoOhioGirl

          It could be in a personal understanding of what we read. It’s important to study..especially with the original language of the gospel (Greek)..which does make distinction.

        • Greg G.

          2 Corinthians 5:3 (NIV)3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.

          Josephus says:

          Jewish War 2.8.14
          They [the Pharisees] say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, – but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.

        • YoOhioGirl

          I’m not understanding the point you’re making?

        • Greg G.

          Sorry, my computer was getting sluggish so I posted rather than lose it.

          Compare Daniel 12:2 with what Josephus says:

          Daniel 12:2 [JW 2.8.14]
          Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake [“all souls are incorruptible”], some to everlasting life [“souls of good men only are removed into other bodies”], and some to shame and everlasting contempt [” souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment”].

          Paul says similar things in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and Philippians 3:20-21 which he seems to get from Isaiah 26:19-21a, Daniel 7:11a, 13a; 12:2, and the quote from Isaiah 25:8a (in 1 Corinthians 15:54, which also talks about the motal body putting on imperishability and immortality).

          From what source do Paul and the Pharisees get the new body idea? I don’t see it in the Isaiah and Daniel passages cited above. Did Paul steal the thought from the Pharisees or do they get it from scripture?

    • Pofarmer

      That’s a very nice job of harmonization. Congrats.

      • YoOhioGirl

        Thank you

        • Pofarmer

          It wasn’t a compliment.

        • Wisdom Speak

          Sure it was :)