Irreconcilable Resurrection Differences

Irreconcilable Resurrection Differences June 5, 2021

In the closing stages of writing my latest book, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK], I had a few test readers. One was David Austin, down in Australia, who has provided a few guest articles for your delectation. Here is one – thanks muchly to him:

In a previous article, I listed various “contradictions” (or as apologists insist, “differences”), in the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus.

Whilst some of these “differences” are not especially significant, and can be “harmonised” with a bit of skewed thinking on the part of apologists (who conveniently ignore the plain reading of the text), I believe there are some which are irreconcilable.

  1. The first “difference” I would cite, is where, exactly, the disciples first met the risen Jesus.

Matthew has women at the Tomb being told, by an angel, that, the disciples should be informed that Jesus will meet with them in Galilee. The women leave the Tomb, and amazingly, they meet with the risen Jesus. After they grab him and worship him, they are again told, explicitly, he will meet with the disciples in Galilee.

Then, the next time the text mentions the disciples, it relates that all eleven disciples (presumably the Twelve minus Judas Iscariot) meet up with Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Surprisingly, the text relates “some doubted”; What they “doubted” remains unclear.

There is absolutely NO mention of any disciple/disciples encountering the risen Jesus in Jerusalem.  If Jesus was planning on meeting them in Jerusalem, why send them on a 3 day trek to Galilee?  If they had already met in Jerusalem, the walk to Galilee would be pointless.  If the “doubting” by some disciples in Galilee was whether the person they encountered was actually Jesus, then if they had already met him in Jerusalem, there would be no doubt as to his identity.

If we compare Matthew’s narrative with that of Luke, we see a stark contrast.

Luke has the first encounter with the risen Jesus by two disciples on the road to Emmaus  (Seven miles from Jerusalem; nowhere near Galilee), and then these two disciples return to Jerusalem, and tell the other disciples of their encounter. The other disciples say that Simon (presumably Simon Peter) had already encountered the risen Jesus (place & time not mentioned).

Then Jesus actually appears in this locked room, and “proved” his physical resurrection by eating some fish. He then, explicitly told them “…..so stay here in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed in power from on high (ie Pentecost)”. Then they went to Bethany (nowhere near Galilee) where Jesus ascended.

Jesus gave no indication of when the “clothed in power” incident would occur.

I doubt that any disciple would leave Jerusalem, and risk not receiving the “Holy Spirit”.

There is absolutely NO indication, in Luke, that any disciples travelled to Galilee. This is in total contradiction to Matthew’s account.

This also makes nonsense of the “Four witnesses to a car crash” apologetic, since if one witness states the “crash” happened in New York and a second supposed witness said it happened in Los Angeles, then either they are describing two totally different “crashes” or one or both are lying.

  1. My second inclusion would be relating to Mary Magdalene interaction with Jesus.

In Matthew’s account, Mary Magdalene is told by the angel/man at the tomb, that Jesus has risen and he will meet the disciples in Galilee.  Leaving the tomb, she (and the other Mary) actually meet Jesus, grab him and worship him, and then she is explicitly told (again) for the disciples to meet him in Galilee. The two Marys presumably pass on this information to the disciples, as the text later relates that all the eleven disciples met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Thus, Mary Magdalene was completely cognizant, that Jesus had risen (being already told that at the tomb, and having it confirmed by actually meeting Jesus after leaving the tomb). In addition, this meeting occurred before Mary Magdalene informed the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection.

This is in stark contrast to John’s account.

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb and finds the tomb empty. There is no angel/man to tell her what has happened to his body. Then she runs back to the disciples, and tells them that somebody has moved the body and she does not know where it is. She is totally unaware that Jesus had risen, and thus came to the more natural conclusion that Jesus’ body had been moved. She then arrives back at the tomb, and she still has no idea about Jesus being resurrected.  She then sees two angels/men inside the tomb, but they don’t inform her about Jesus’ resurrection.  Even when she talks to Jesus outside the tomb (whom she does not initially recognise), she still thinks the body had been moved, until finally she recognised Jesus, but she is not allowed to touch him (cf Matthew’s account above). Jesus does not mention that the disciples should go to Galilee to meet him. What’s more, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus occurs after she had informed the disciples that Jesus’ tomb is empty (cf Matthew’s account above).

Jesus then meets with the disciples in Jerusalem on two occasions, a week apart (even though Luke has Jesus ascending on the day of Resurrection), and then later to seven disciples (not eleven) at the Sea of Tiberias (not on a mountain).  John specifically says this was the third encounter with the disciples, so this precludes any meeting with the eleven disciples on a mountain prior to this meeting at the Sea of Tiberias.  This also runs contrary to Luke, where Jesus commanded the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until after Pentecost.

These are two completely different & contradictory stories, and I do not know how you can reconcile them.

  1. My third inclusion would relate to where/if the women encountered Jesus

Mark doesn’t mention if the women encountered Jesus. After their encounter with an angel/man, they ran off and told no-one. I would think Mark would have mentioned an encounter by the women with Jesus if this had happened. In fact, Mark (in the earliest & best manuscripts) has NO encounters by the women or disciples with the risen Jesus.

Matthew has the women meeting Jesus after leaving the Tomb on their way to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

Luke has the women being told by angels/men at the tomb that Jesus had risen, but Luke never mentions whether the women encountered Jesus on the way to tell the disciples. This is, I suppose, an “argument from silence” (ie absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) but it seems highly likely that Luke would have mentioned this important detail if it had happened.

John has Mary Magdalene meeting with Jesus at the tomb, on her second visit there.

In summary:-

Mark – No meeting by the women with Jesus.

Matthew – Yes – a meeting with the women upon leaving the tomb, before meeting with the disciples.

Luke – No meeting by the women with Jesus.

John – Yes – a meeting with Mary Magdalene after meeting with the disciples.

I think these three “differences” are sufficient to throw doubt on the resurrection accounts.

I suppose one could come up with some “tortured” narrative about how this “might” have happened, but you must realise that you are creating your own story, which does not comport with any Gospel account. In addition, each narrative was intended to stand alone on its own merits as its Resurrection account, so it is disingenuous to use other accounts to somehow create a new narrative, which the original Gospel author had not intended.

David J. Austin 2021

As a reminder, check my (JP’s) recent interview:


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