The Resurrection Account Measures Up - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonApologetics - A Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith
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Does the Resurrection account in the Bible measure up? Is there a harmony of the different accounts that makes sense?
Critics often object that the Gospel record, especially that of the resurrection, is not credible because of the contradictions in the accounts. For example, the order of events appears to be different in the various accounts. For example, the Gospels list Mary as the first person who saw Jesus after his resurrection whereas 1 Corinthians 15:5 lists Peter as first. Likewise Matthew 28:2 lists Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as the first at the tomb whereas John 20:1 names only Mary Magdalene as being there.
Nonetheless, despite these differences, closer scrutiny of the resurrection accounts reveals a hidden harmony. Indeed, it demonstrates the kinds of unity in differences one would expect from independent, reliable witnesses who were not in collusion. Hence, the contention that the Gospels contradict each other fails for many reasons.
The Harmony o f the Resurrection Accounts. There is a discernible overall order of postresurrection events in the New Testament accounts. All the other events can be fit into this overall list as follows when seeing or interacting with Christ:
1. Mary Magdalene appear in Mark and John
2. Mary & Women appear in Matthew and Luke
3. Peter appears in John and 1 Corinthians
4. Two Disciples appear in Mark and Acts
5. Ten Apostles appear in John and Acts
6. Eleven Apostles appear in 1 Corinthians
7. Seven Apostles appear in Acts
8. All Apostles (Great Commission) appear in Matthew and Mark
9. 500 Brethren appear in 1 Corinthians
10. James appears in 1 Corinthians
11. All Apostles (Ascension) appear in Matthew
12. Paul appears in Acts and 1 Corinthians
Other scholars (cf. Wenham, 139) reverse numbers 3 and 4 (but see Luke 24:34) and some combine 8 and 9. But this is of no consequence in reconciling all the data. There is no demonstrable contradiction either way
Once several factors are noted, there is no, major problem in fitting the various appearances together
First, because Paul is defending the resurrection, he provides an official list that includes only, men (women at that time were not allowed to give testimony in court).
Second, it is understandable that Christ’s appearance to Paul would not be listed in the Gospels, since their narration ends by the time of Christ’s ascension and Paul saw Christ many ‘”years later” (Acts 9:3ff; 1 Cor. 15:7).
Third, since Paul’s point is to provide proof of the resurrection it was fitting that he singled out the appearance to the five hundred witnesses, most of whom were still alive when he wrote (ca A.D. 55).
Fourth, the rest of the appearances, such as those to James (1 Cor. 15:7) and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13f.) fit in as supplementary information that does not contradict the other appearances.
Fifth, even the difficulty in discerning the exact order of events of the first appearances to the women is not insurmountable. The following order of events appears to account for all the data consistently:
1. “Mary Magdalene” visited Jesus’ tomb Sunday morning “while it was still dark” (John 20:1 ). (It is possible that someone was with her, since she refers to “we” [J ‘ 20:2].)
2. Seeing that the stone had been rolled a (John 20:1 ), she ran back to Peter and John in Jerusalem and said, “We do not know where they have laid him” (v 2).
3. Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw the empty grave clothes (John 20:3-9) and “the disciples” (Peter and John) “returned to their homes” (v. 11 ). But Mary Magdalene’ followed Peter and John to the tomb.
4. After Peter and John left, Mary Magdalene lingering at the tomb, saw two angels “where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:12). Then Jesus appeared to her (Matthew 28:9) and told her to return to the disciples, (John 20:14-17).
5. As Mary Magdalene was leaving, the “o ~ women’ arrived at the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1).’ , this time, it “began to dawn” (Matt. 28) The group including the “other Mary” (28:1), the mother of James (Luke 24:10), Salome (Mark 16:1), and Johanna (Luke 24:1, 10) also saw that the stone had been rolled away (Matt. 28:2; Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1 ). Entering the tomb, they saw “two men” (Luke 24:4), one of whom spoke to them (Mark 16:5) and told them to return to Galilee, where they would see Jesus (Matt: 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7). These two young “men” were actually angels (John 20:12).
6. As Mary Magdalene and the women left to go tell the disciples, Jesus appeared to them and told them to go to Galilee to his “brethren” (Matt. 28:9-10). Meanwhile, the “eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them” (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:7).
7. Mary Magdalene with the “other women” (Luke 24:10) returned that evening to the eleven (Luke 24:9) and “all the rest” (v. 11) now reassembled in Galilee behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Mary Magdalene told them she had seen the Lord (v 18). But the disciples did not believe her (Mark 16:11). Neither did they believe the story of the other women (Luke 24:11).
8. Upon hearing this news, Peter got up and ran again to the tomb. Seeing the empty grave clothes (Luke 24:12), he marveled. There are noticeable differences between this visit and his first one. Here Peter is alone, whereas John was with him the first time (John 20:3-8). Here, Peter is definitely impressed; the first time, only John “saw and believed” (John 20:8).
Taken in part from The Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics