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Harmonizing the Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection – Part I7 min read

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The Resurrection of Christ
Peter Paul Rubens

There are a bevy of logical objections to the biblical timeline of the resurrection, described in all four Gospels.  The answers below are courtesy of Simon Greenleaf, skeptic turned believer.  There ARE answers for all such questions – but I doubt the hardened skeptic is really looking to believe – but this is for all the people who have not yet been poisoned by the skeptic’s resolve to disprove faith.

1. What time did the women visit the tomb?

(Matt. 26:1-8. Mark 16:1-8. Luke 24:1-11. John 20:1, 2)

All the Evangelists agree in saying that the women went out very early to the sepulchre. Matthew’s expression is, as the day was dawning. Mark’s words are, very early: which indeed are less definite, but are appropriate to denote the same point of time. Luke has the more poetic term: deep morning, i.e. early dawn. John’s language is likewise definite: early, while it was yet dark. All these expressions go to fix the time at what we call early dawn, or early twilight; after the break of day, but while the light is yet struggling with darkness.

Thus far there is no difficulty; and none would ever arise, had not Mark added the phrase, the sun being risen; or, as the English version has it, at the rising of the sun. These words seem, at first, to be at direct variance both with the very early of Mark himself, and with the language of the other Evangelists. To harmonize this apparent discrepancy, we may premise, that since Mark himself first specifies the point of time by a phrase sufficiently definite in itself, and supported by all the other Evangelists, we must conclude that when he adds, at the rising of the sun, he did not mean to contradict himself, but used this latter phrase in a broader and less definite sense….In all these passages the language is entirely parallel to that of Mark; and they serve fully to illustrate the principle, that the rising of the sun is here used in a popular sense as equivalent to the rising of the day or early dawn.

2. Who were the women?

Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; v. 1. Mark enumerates Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; v. 1. Luke has Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others with them; v. 10. John speaks of Mary Magdalene alone, and says nothing of any other. The first three Evangelists accord then in respect to the two Marys, but no further; while John differs from them all. Is there here a real discrepancy?

We may at once answer, No; because, according to the sound canon of Le Clerc: * Qui plura narrat, pauciocra complectitur; qui pauciora memorat, plura nzon negat.” Because John, in narrating circumstances with which he was personally connected, sees fit to mention only Mary Magdalene, it does not at all follow that others were not present. Because Matthew, perhaps for like reasons, speaks only of the two Marys, he by no means excludes the presence of others. Indeed, the very words which John puts into the mouth of Mary Magdalene, (v. 2), presupposes the fact that others had gone with her to the sepulchre. That there was something in respect to Mary Magdalene, which gave her a peculiar prominence in these transactions, may be inferred from the fact, that not only John mentions her alone, but likewise all the other Evangelists name her first, as if holding the most conspicuous place.

The instance here under consideration is parallel to that of the demoniacs of Gadara, and the blind men at Jericho; where, in both cases, Matthew speaks of two persons, while Mark and Luke mention only one.** Something peculiar in the station or character of one of the persons, rendered him in each case more prominent, and led the two latter Evangelists to speak of him particularly. But there, as here, their language is not exclusive; nor is there in it anything that contradicts the statements of Matthew.

3. What was their purpose?

I’m not sure what you mean by this question, or what the discrepancy is.

4. Was the tomb open when they arrived?

According to Mark, Luke, and John, the women on reaching the sepulchre found the great stone, with which it had been closed, already rolled away. Matthew, on the other hand, after narrating that the women went out to see the sepulchre, proceeds to mention the earthquake, the descent of the angel, his rolling away the stone and sitting upon it, and the terror of the watch, as if all these things took place in the presence of the women. The angel too (in v. 5) addresses the women, as if still sitting upon the stone he had rolled away.

The apparent discrepancy, if any, here arises simply from Matthew’s brevity in omitting to state in full what his narrative presupposes. According to v. 6, Christ was already risen; and therefore the earthquake and its accompaniments must have taken place at an earlier point of time, to which the sacred writer returns back in his narration. And although Matthew does not represent the women as entering the sepulchre, yet in v. 8, he speaks of them as going out of it; so that of course their interview with the angel took place, not outside of the sepulchre, but in it, as narrated by the other Evangelists. When therefore.the angel says to them in v. 6, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” this is not said without the tomb to induce them to enter, as Strauss avers; but within the sepulchre, just as in Mark v. 6.

5. Who was at the tomb when they arrived?  Where were these messengers situated? What did the messenger(s) say?

Of this John says nothing. Matthew and Mark speak of one angel; Luke of two. Mark says he was sitting; Luke speaks of them as standing. This difference in respect to numbers is parallel to the case of the women, which we have just considered; and requires therefore no further illustration.

There is likewise some diversity in the language addressed to the women by the angels. In Matthew and Mark, the prominent object is the charge to the disciples to depart into Galilee. In Luke this is not referred to; but the women are reminded of our Lord’s own previous declaration; that he would rise again on the third day. Neither of the Evangelists here professes to report all that was said by the angels; and of course there is no room for contradiction.