Due to its remarkable nature and extreme significance, critics have for centuries sought to refute or disprove the historical reality of the resurrection. One of their primary methods of attack is to point out what they claim to be contradictions between the eyewitness accounts. These doubters argue that the various testimonies recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of what actually happened that miraculous Sunday morning are hopelessly inconsistent and therefore must be considered unreliable or even downright false.
So what exactly are these alleged inconsistencies that are found in the four different gospel accounts? Listed below are six of the most notable and apparent ones.
● The number of women who came to the tomb - John names only 1, Matthew names 2, Mark names 3, and Luke names 3 but says there were others also
● The time of the visits to the tomb - John says it was still dark (before sunrise), Matthew and Luke say it was at sunrise, and Mark states that the sun had already risen (after sunrise)
● The details regarding the messengers at the tomb - Matthew says there was 1 angel outside the tomb, Mark says there was 1 young man inside the tomb, Luke says there were 2 men standing inside the tomb, and John says there were 2 angels sitting inside the tomb where the body of Jesus had been
● The encounters with Jesus after leaving the tomb - John indicates that Mary Magdalene alone met Jesus and was asked not to cling to Him, Matthew indicates that several women met Jesus and were allowed to cling to Him, Mark indicates that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Jesus but gives no further details, and Luke says nothing on the issue
● Who the women told after seeing Jesus or leaving the tomb - Matthew reports that the women told the disciples, Mark reports that the women told no one, Luke reports that the women told the eleven apostles and others, and John reports that Mary Magdalene told Peter and John first, and later the other disciples
● How the the disciples/apostles respond to the news - John says that both he and Peter rushed to the tomb, Luke says that only Peter went to the tomb, while Mark and Matthew give no indication that any men ever went to the tomb that morning
If the Bible is inerrant and absolutely true, then each of the eyewitness accounts recorded in it must be also. If even one of them is false, either wholly or in part, it calls into question the truthfulness and reliability of the entire text - perhaps even the occurrence of the resurrection itself. Yet, with all of the variation, how can each of these passages about Easter morning be true?
This is an extremely important question that used to bother me greatly and undermine my faith to some degree. Perhaps it has affected you in the same way, casting doubt on your confidence in the Bible and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If so, this is exactly what Satan wants…
Throughout church history, many scholars and theologians have presented theories that attempt to reconcile the resurrection accounts. Many of them are plausible. This morning, I will briefly share exactly what I believe happened that morning. While I am not the first to make this suggestion, based upon hours of prayer and study I believe that it is the most likely scenario. Certainly, other possibilities exist.
Before sharing the complete story of Easter morning, let me first explain the process used to compile it.
I began by carefully reading the 4 resurrection passages which are found in Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-18. Because each of these testimonies is based upon the perspective of a different witness and each contains some unique details, I concluded that a series of events must have taken place that morning. Thus, no one account by itself gives the complete picture of all that happened, but rather the combination of them all together tells the entire story.
Next I placed the various passages into a logical order, aided by the work of others who have done similar studies in the past. After examining various possibilities, I settled on the one sequence of events that seemed to be the most rational.
Then I took the Bible verses and wrote them out word for word in the order that I had determined. Due to some overlap in the testimonies, in some places I combined 2 or more verses that were related to the exact same event. In these instances, if there were specific details unique to one verse or the other I carefully included them all in the combined product. In other places, because the details had been realigned into a single rendering, the linguistic flow of the individual verses was disrupted. To address this, I made some minor interpretive additions and/or revisions simply to allow the narration to read smoothly and understandably.
Following this methodology, I came up with a full account of what actually happened on Easter morning. The words of the story are almost all directly taken from Scripture. I used brackets to distinguish the words that I added or changed.
THE COMPLETE STORY OF EASTER MORNING
When the Sabbath was over [at sunset on Saturday evening], Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, [went and] bought spices, so that they might come and anoint [the body of Jesus the next morning]. [Sometime during the night] a severe earthquake occurred [marking the time of the resurrection]. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone [from the entrance of the tomb] and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards [stationed there] shook for fear of him and became like dead men. [Terrified by what they saw, the guards fled].
[Not long after this, very early Sunday morning,] Mary Magdalene [arrived alone at] the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the [entrance]. [Assuming the worst] she ran and came to Simon Peter and [John] and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and [neither you nor I] know where they have laid Him."
[Concerned by Mary Magdalene's report] Peter and [John] went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and [John] ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So [John] who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed [what Mary Magdalene had said, that indeed the body of Jesus had been stolen]. For as yet [both Peter and John] did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.
But Mary [Magdalene had followed the two apostles and remained] standing outside the tomb weeping [after they left]; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). [Overwhelmed with joy, she cheerfully embraced Him. After a few moments] Jesus [tenderly] said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father [and will be with you for a while longer; right now I want you to] go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I [will soon] ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’" [Therefore, it is rightly said that] after He had risen early on the first day of the week, His first appearance was to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.
[Having now actually encountered the risen Jesus] Mary Magdalene came [again], announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and [told them] that He had said these things to her. [When] she [arrived] and reported to those who had been with Him, they were mourning and weeping [because they still did not believe or know that the Lord was alive]. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, [the story seemed so spectacular that] they refused to believe it. [Exasperated by their doubt, Mary Magdalene went to tell someone she felt certain would believe her - her friend Mary, the wife of Clopas].
[In the meantime,] very early [in the morning] on the first day of the week, [a group of women] came to the tomb [bringing the spices that they had prepared]. [By the time they arrived] the sun had [already] risen. [As they walked toward the tomb, having not yet heard that anything had happened,] they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up [from the distance], they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.
[Elsewhere, after finding her friend and telling her what she'd seen, and just] as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary [hurriedly] came to look at the [empty] grave. [They arrived at the tomb at the about same time as the other women did].
[In the entrance of the tomb, the now combined group of women] saw [an angel who took on the form of] a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed [or afraid]; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, [come inside and see] the place where they laid Him. [Then] go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’"
[Having been invited by the angel to come in,] they entered [the tomb], [and] they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two [angels in the form of] men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." And they remembered His words.
[Somewhat startled,] they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone [publically], for they were afraid [of what might happen]. [Though certainly wrought] with fear [, they also felt] great joy and ran to report it to His disciples [privately]. And behold, [as they went] Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me."
Now while [the women] were on their way [to see the disciples], some of the guard [who had been stationed at the tomb] came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
[By this time, the women had] returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. [Their collective testimony of seeing the risen Jesus confirmed what Mary Magdalene had told them earlier.]
But these words [still] appeared to [the disciples as] as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter [was intrigued, so he] got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he [again] saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.
By synthesizing the resurrection accounts into one seamless story, we discover that all of the eyewitness statements are true and fit neatly together. As a matter of fact, the differences between them actually make them more credible than they would be otherwise. After all, if several people experienced the same event they would likely describe it somewhat differently. If they all said exactly the same thing, suspicions would be raised that they had collaborated together and perhaps made up details in order to get their stories straight. In other words, it is actually the diversity of the resurrection accounts that makes them most believable.
In closing, there are no serious contradictions that invalidate the testimonies of the resurrection found in the Bible. As such, we can have full confidence that the story is true just as it was told. And here is one thing they all agreed on - Jesus was alive! Without any doubt we can proclaim that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did indeed rise from the grave. Glory hallelujah! He is not here! He is risen!