In honor of Resurrection Sunday (which I prefer to call it), I’m going to talk about what happened that “first day of the week” when Jesus rose from the dead. In particular, were there any contradictions in the four Gospel accounts as critics claim? Why is this important? Because if a critic can accurately claim that the accounts of the Resurrection of Christ are contradictory, they will then dismiss it as a myth, say that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, and so forth. And we, as Christians, know that the Resurrection is a very important component of Christianity, for the whole of it hinges on this: “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins…. If in this life only we hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19) I am going to come at this with a list of objections, and after each one, I’ll give the Bible’s answer.
Objection #1 : Who really went to the tomb? Mark says, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.” (Mark 16:1) Matthew says, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” (Matt 28:1) Luke says, “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.” (Luke 24:1) And finally, John says, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” (John 20:1)
“See!” the critics will exclaim, “Matthew omits all the women mentioned by Mark, except for Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary,’ and John only mentions Mary Magdalene! Why aren’t the other woman listed? Case dismissed. The Bible is in error!”
But hold on! The case isn’t as easy to dismiss as they think; and, in fact, the answer is so easy that I fail to see how any rationally thinking critic could miss it.
When we examine all four texts completely, we find that Mark is correct. We can begin by safely saying that Mary Magdalene was there, because she is mentioned by all but Luke. We also know that John wanted to portray the event from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, as can be seen when Peter and John come to the tomb and Mary is sitting outside the tomb weeping; Therefore, he wouldn’t have mentioned the other woman, because he was focusing on Mary Magdalene. Second, we can conclude from Matthew and Mark that “the other Mary” was probably Mary the mother of James, as she is the only other Mary listed. We know that Salome was there, too. We can’t conclude much from Luke, since he doesn’t mention the names of the women. However, if any other women were with these three women, they were probably not as much a central figure as the women mentioned.
As an interesting side note, some commentators say that Mary the mother of James is the same Mary whom John (19:25) says is the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary and the wife of Clopas [see Mark 3:18; they say Alphaeus is the same as Clopas] -- you will remember that Cleopas was one of the two to whom Jesus appeared as they walked to Emmaus. Mark 15:40 says, “There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome…” It is interesting to note, first of all, that all three woman who are mentioned as being the first to the tomb are also mentioned as standing afar off from the cross of Jesus. Also, notice that it says, “Mary the mother of James the Less”; this verse is the cross reference for John 19:25 -- “Mary the wife of Clopas.” In other words, Mary the mother of James was the virgin Mary’s sister, and the wife of Cleopas, who walked to Emmaus with a friend. (If you study out Luke’s narrative, you will notice that Cleopas says that certain woman of the company had amazed them by telling them that the tomb was empty, and when the two arrive back to tell the others that they had seen the Lord, Luke mentions the eleven “and those who were with them,” meaning the woman who had already come back and reported to the disciples. Cleopas’ wife was one of them! He had heard it from his own wife, and he still couldn’t believe!)
It is also important to remember that in ancient times, a woman’s testimony was considered worthless; hence the disciples didn’t believe the woman, as the Gospels record.
Objection #2 : What time of day was it? Luke 24:1 states, “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.” Meanwhile, Matthew 28:1 says, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” And John 20:1 says, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” The problem with this, the critics will claim, is that one writer says it was dark, and the other says the sun had risen; in other words, it would be light if the sun had risen, not dark. So who is right?
The answer to this is simple: The women set out “very early in the morning” while it was still dark and arrived when the sun had risen -- as it began to dawn. This makes perfect sense if you think about the time it would have taken for the woman to all meet; one woman (perhaps Mary Magdalene) would have to leave her house while it was dark and collect the others. Then they would have to journey outside the city to the tomb.
Objection #3 : How many angels were present at the tomb? For the critic, it appears that two Gospels say one angel appeared and rolled away the stone (Matthew 28:2), while another says that one angel sat on the right side in the tomb (Mark 16:4). And yet another says that two angels stood by the woman (Luke 24), while another says that two angels sat “one at the head, and the other at the feet” where Jesus body had laid. So was it one or two angels?
Well, if you look at the context closely, you can figure it out. From the Gospels, it can be seen that one angel rolls away the stone and sits on it. The woman don’t see him, but the guards do and they are terrified. From Matthew, this does not appear to be so, but when we look at Mark, we find that the woman enter the tomb before they see an angel. Luke is where the confusion begins for the skeptics. Luke says that two men in shining apparel stood by the woman. However, if we back up and look at Matthew again and consider that the woman didn’t see the angel sitting on the stone, but they do see the angel in the tomb, we see that there are two angels -- the one that sat on the stone, and the one in the tomb. If we compare this to Luke, he says that the two angels were inside the tomb, so there might have actually been three angels -- one sitting on the stone, and two inside. Actually, Mark agrees perfectly with this, because he says that the angel inside the tomb spoke with the woman; Luke also says the angels inside the tomb spoke with the woman. Following this logic, we can see that when Matthew says that the angel tells the woman not to be afraid, he is actually referring to the angels inside the tomb, not the one sitting on the stone. (It could also be argued that only one angel spoke and that is why Matthew and Mark only mention one angel.)
Objection #4 goes right along with the previous objection. It is this: John 20:11-12 states: “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” So where were the other woman here? Weren’t they with Mary Magdalene?
First of all, we need to remember that John was focusing on Mary Magdalene at this point in his Gospel, so he doesn’t mention the other woman. However, when a careful comparison is made with the other Gospels, we can see that the angels instructed the woman to go tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee. The other woman ran to tell the other disciples, while Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter, as John reports. So at this point, Peter and John have left, and Mary is still at the tomb where she sees the two angels and then she sees Jesus. The other woman met Jesus on the way and they tell the disciples everything. Now, Mary Magdalene meets up with these woman and the disciples, reporting that she has also seen the risen Christ.
There are certainly many other objections to the Resurrection that the critics continue to attack, such as the fact that Jesus didn’t actually die, so He wasn’t really Resurrected. I’ll deal with that next time. For now, I encourage you to read each of the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20, so that you can see for yourself the information that has been presented.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.”