Sunday, April 17

Can Alleged Resurrection Contradictions Be Reconciled?

It is intriguing to note that most of the alleged contradictions in the Resurrection accounts found in the Gospels are supplementary and complementary rather than contradictory. However, in this entry, we will attempt to examine these alleged contradictions and try to provide a clearer picture of what transpired. Bear in mind that the Gospel writers did not give us ever little detail in the Resurrection account, but they can be easily reconciled once looked at. 

When we examine the death and resurrection of Jesus, it's important to keep in mind that not every detail is the same in the Gospels. In fact, if all four Gospels were the same, scholars would likely have more of an issue with them, since that would clearly indicate corroboration! In actuality, several scholars - and historians - have noted that even if an alleged contradiction arises, it is actually a better indicator that it was a firsthand account. Had all four been the same, it would be hard to trust them all - and there would be need for only when.

So when taking a look at these things, it makes sense that not every detail is going to be exactly the same. However, once these are examined, typically we find it rather easy to reconcile them. Now, we have already taken a look at the supposed discrepancy concerning the inscription(s) on the cross: it was written in three languages, and not all three languages said the same thing, thus the reason for the different quotations in the Gospels. (For more info, see entry: "INRI: What Was Written Over Jesus On The Cross?")

As put by Got Questions Ministries, "In the battle with skeptics regarding Jesus' resurrection, Christians are in a 'no-win' situation. If the resurrection accounts harmonize perfectly, skeptics will claim that the writers of the Gospels conspired together. If the resurrection accounts have some differences, skeptics will claim that the Gospels contradict each other and therefore cannot be trusted. It is our contention that the resurrection accounts can be harmonized and do not contradict each other."[1]

One such "contradiction" is as follows: Matthew and Mark say there was one angel at the tomb; Luke and John say there were two. The Gospels also seem to describe different women coming to the tomb, some of them going to say something to the disciples, the others remaining silent. Other alleged contradictions include: Jesus appearing to different people "first," seemingly, and the order of resurrection appearances.

Can these be reconciled? Certainly, if we consider them in the following order. After his death, Jesus is buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, while several women look on (see Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42). After this, the stone is rolled, the tomb is sealed, and a guard is set at the site of the tomb (see Matthew 27:62-66). On the third, three (possibly more) women, including Mary mother of James, Salome, and Mary Magdalene, prepare some spices and head to the tomb where Jesus was buried. (see Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1)

While the women are on their way to the tomb, an angel descended from heaven, proceeds to roll away the stone, and sits upon it. After this, there was an earthquake, and the guards fainted. (see Matthew 28:2-4). The women then arrived at the tomb only to find it empty. Mary Magdalene leaves the other women there and runs to tell the disciples (see John 20:1-2). Now, the women who were still at the tomb saw two angels who conveyed that Jesus was risen from the dead. The angels also instruct the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1-8).

The women then proceeded  leave to bring the news to the disciples (Matthew 28:8). The guards, who fainted, awoke and went to report the empty tomb to the authorities, who in turn bribed the guards to say that the body was stolen (Matthew 28:11-15). This is where the propagation of that theory began. After this, Mary (the mother of James) and the other women, who were on their way to find the disciples, saw the risen Christ (see Matthew 28:9-10). Having had this encounter, now all the more eager to speak with the disciples, the women find them and report what they have seen and heard (see Luke 24:9-11).

Peter and John proceeded to run to the tomb, with John arriving first, and find it empty, containing only the grave clothes (see Luke 24:12; John 20:2-10). After Peter and John have left, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb, and saw the two angels. Following this, she saw the risen Christ (see John 20:11-18). Later during the day, Christ appears to Simon Peter, as reported in Luke 24:34 and 1st Corinthians 15:5. Also during the very same day, Jesus appeared to Cleopas as well as another disciple, who were on the road to Emmaus. Jesus remains with them and shows them that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning himself, though they did not know it was Him at first.

Once Jesus vanishes, the two disciples reported the event to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem (see Luke 24:33-35). Jesus appeared to ten disciples soon after, but Thomas was not with them. When Thomas returned to the home, he did not believe that they had seen Jesus (see Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25). Following this, Jesus appears to all eleven disciples, and this time Thomas was with them. He believed. (John 20:26-31). Not long after this, Jesus appeared to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25), followed by appearing to more than 500 disciples in Galilee (1st Corinthians 15:6).

Of significant note, Jesus then appeared to His half-brother James, who was a skeptic all of Jesus' life, but once He had seen the risen Christ, radically converted, and became a Christian (see 1st Corinthians 15:7). Jesus then commissioned His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20).
Jesus proceeded to teach His disciples the Scriptures and promised to send the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-5). This was followed by His ascension. "When he had led them out of the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Dr. Luke expounds upon this event in the sequel to his first work. As Acts 1:9-11 conveys:

"After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven."

Therefore, once we carefully examine the accounts, we find that alleged contradictions are supplementary and complementary, not contradictory. A contradiction would be one Gospel stating that Jesus died on a cross and another stating that He was stoned to death. But we do not find any of that. The historic core of the Gospel remains the same and rings true. Was there one angel or two angels? One angel rolled away the stone, but later that day two appeared. An easily reconcilable "issue."

God's Word, contrary to popular belief, does not contain contradictions. For example, it has been claimed that because Jesus repeatedly called Himself the "Son of Man" that He was not claiming deity. But calling this a contradiction does not make it a contradiction, it illustrates a lack of understanding or time spent in research before preparing to make such an accusation. The phrase "Son of Man" actually comes from Daniel 7:13-14, which says:

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." 

From this, it is evident that when Jesus claimed to be the "Son of Man," He was clearly claiming deity, thus the reason the authorities would become angry when He called Himself by that name. It is not a contradiction, but a fulfillment. One need merely examine, and look deeper. So, can alleged contradictions in the resurrection accounts be reconciled? Yes, fairly easily. One need only take the time to look.

As put by Dorothy Sayers, "One is often surprised to find how many apparent contradictions [in the Gospel Resurrection accounts] turn out not to be contradictory at all, but merely supplementary… Divergences appear very great on first sight… But the fact remains that all of [the Resurrection accounts], without exception, can be made to fall into a place in a single orderly and coherent narrative, without the smallest contradiction or difficulty and without any suppression, invention, or manipulation, beyond a trifling effort to imagine the natural behavior of a bunch of startled people running about in the dawn-light between Jerusalem and the garden."[2]

Thank you for reading this entry of "The Truth." Feel free to comment below (but please remain civil), email or The Truth Ministries team at, visit our facebook page, or visit the ministry website. Take care, dear reader, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

[1] Can the various resurrection accounts from the four Gospels be harmonized?
[2] Dorothy Sayers, The Man Born to be King (Harper and Brothers, 1943), p. 19f.

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