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This is for our commenter Cineaste, who recently pulled every possible example (from his favorite skeptics site, no doubt) of apparent Bible contradictions to prove his point that the Bible is unreliable in matters of faith.  The questions below are his, the answers, courtesy of Simon Greenleaf, skeptic turned believer.  Needless to say, 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
. 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

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

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.