Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge (Chronology of Accounts)

Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge (Chronology of Accounts) March 18, 2023

Well-known atheist Dan Barker raised this issue in his article: “Leave No Stone Unturned: An Easter Challenge For Christians” (originally from March 1990 in Freethought Today). He wrote:

I HAVE AN EASTER challenge for Christians. My challenge is simply this: tell me what happened on Easter. I am not asking for proof. My straightforward request is merely that Christians tell me exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born. . . .

The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.

Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture–it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. . . .

But first things first: Christians, either tell me exactly what happened on Easter Sunday, or let’s leave the Jesus myth buried next to Eastre (Ishtar, Astarte), the pagan Goddess of Spring after whom your holiday was named.

Atheist David Austin, writing on atheist Jonathan MS Pearce’s blog, recently addressed this topic: “Answering Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge” (3-15-23). He came up with a 26-point proposed chronology / scenario.

I don’t intend to delve fully into this topic. I’ve addressed alleged “Resurrection narrative contradictions” in great depth in many articles (which I hope to incorporate into a planned book on alleged biblical contradictions). For those treatments, see my web page, Armstrong’s Refutations of Alleged Biblical “Contradictions” and search for “Jesus: Resurrection.” Also, search “DIALOGUES WITH JEWISH APOLOGIST MICHAEL J. ALTER ON JESUS’ RESURRECTION” on my Trinitarianism & Christology web page, for my 29 replies to Alter’s skeptical charges. My present purpose is to simply document several of the many such attempts made by Christians. Here are the ones I’ve found:

Jimmy Akin offered “How the Resurrection Narratives Fit Together” (1-23-17): a 16-point schema, including a lot of written analysis, and final sections on “Gospel Sequencing” and “Proposed Chronology.”

Peter Ballard wrote, “Harmonising the Resurrection Accounts” (2-12-00; last revised on 4-4-05). It has 19 points, with much commentary (much like Akin’s) and additional related pieces, “Answers to specific alleged contradictions” and “Answers to objections posed by readers of this page.”

Professor of Biblical Exegesis at Fuller Theological Seminary, George Eldon Ladd,  devised a 17-point scenario in his book, I Believe in the Resurrection (Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 91-93. Later, he discovered a nearly identical effort from Michael C. Perry, in his book, The Easter Enigma (London: Faber and Faber, 1959), pp. 65, 70. Note that these are 15 and 31 years prior to Barker’s challenge.

J. Gene White proposed “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Twenty-Two Point Harmony of the Four Gospels” (c. 2010).

Anglican biblical and Greek scholar John Wenham offered what Christian apologist Gary Habermas believed was the best such harmonization in his book, Easter Enigma (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992). It was expanded a bit and summarized in 38 points, in the paper, “Harmonizing the Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection.”

In 1847, Harvard Law professor and attorney Simon Greenleaf published An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice, with a later edition in 1874, The Testimony of the Evangelists examined by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice, available in its entirety online. This 1874 edition featured a section called “Harmony of the Gospels,” including “Part IX: Our Lord’s Resurrection, His Subsequent Appearances and His Ascension.  Time: Forty Days,” from pages 483-503: a spectacularly detailed schema, adapted by W.R. Miller in the article, “Greenleaf’s Harmony of the Resurrection Accounts.”

The Compelling Truth website offers the 17-point piece, “Do the gospel resurrection accounts contradict each other?”

Ian Paul proposed a 23-point scenario, “based on the work of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona” in his paper, “Are there contradictions in the resurrection accounts?” (4-25-19).

Gary F. Zeolla presented 1 22-point scenario in “Easter Harmony” (1999).

Murray J. Harris gives us a 21-point schema, in his “Suggested Harmonization of the Resurrection Narratives” (1994).

For more, see the Reconciling Scripture web page.


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Photo credit: geralt (1-23-21) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]
Summary: Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge is a “dare” for Christians to try to harmonize the burial and Resurrection accounts in all four Gospels. I highlight eleven such attempts.
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