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The four accounts of the empty tomb seem to differ as follows:

  1. Matthew 28:1-8 says that when the two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to visit the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel came down from heaven, rolled back the stone and sat on it. He told them Jesus was risen, so they left quickly and apparently without entering the tomb, so that they could tell the disciples.
  2. Mark 16:1-8 says that when the three women, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary and Salome, went to visit the tomb, they saw the stone already rolled away. They entered the tomb and saw a young man, who told them Jesus was risen and that they should go and tell the disciples and Peter. They left and told no one of this, for they were afraid. Verse 16:9 is generally believed to be an interpolation that begins a separate tradition.
  3. Luke 24:1-12 says that when a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, another Mary and Joanna, went to visit the tomb, they saw the stone already rolled away. They entered the tomb and saw two men in shining garments, who explained that Jesus was risen. When they went to tell the apostles, Peter ran to the sepulchre and looked inside, seeing only the linen cloths laid by themselves.
  4. John 20:1-14 says that Mary Magdalene went alone to visit the tomb but as she approached, she saw the stone rolled away. She ran back, apparently without entering the tomb, and told of this to Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved. The two disciples both ran to the tomb and looked inside, but it was the beloved disciple who understood and believed. Mary Magdalene must have returned to the tomb, because she looked inside and saw two angels, then saw Jesus standing outside next to her.

Since these are descriptions of the same event, can the four accounts be harmonise and, if so, how?


Related: How many and who were the people the women found at Jesus' tomb?

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  • Why do they need to be harmonized? Perhaps they can't/shouldn't be.
    – Dan
    Jul 18, 2016 at 23:53
  • The answer to all your questions. :-)
    – Lucian
    Aug 1, 2017 at 3:02
  • What’s interesting is, if one were faking these accounts to make a false story/religion they would ensure the accounts in these books would all align perfectly. The differences (maybe in human error or human memory, who knows) are intriguing and imply these are real accounts recollected by different people across time, not hoaxes written all at once to deceive. Feb 23, 2019 at 18:51

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There are many apologetic websites that explains this easily such as tektonics or bethinking. It is a common objection. The summery or short answer to the questions on alleged contradiction is that they are complementary. They merely present different perspective and narration having different emphasis. For example Michael Licona explains that often different testimonies present slightly different account of the same event; for example there was extremely contradictory account of the way the Titanic sank by its survivors; but none of them contradicted about the main event- that Titanic sank.

A short quote from this Josh McDowell article :

The area which has generated the most discussion concerns the angels who were at the tomb of Jesus. Matthew and Mark relate that one angel addressed the women, while Luke and John say that two angels were at the tomb. This seems to be a discrepancy, with Matthew and Mark knowing of only one angel while Luke and John speak of two. However, Matthew and Mark do not say that there was only one angel at the tomb, but that one angel spoke to the women.

This does not contradict Luke and John, for Matthew and Mark specify that one angel spoke, but they do not say there was only one angel present or only one angel spoke. Quite possibly, one of the angels served as the spokesman for the two, thus he was emphasized. There is no need to assume a discrepancy. Though they report some of the details differently, the Gospels agree in all important points. The accounts are in harmony on the fact that Jesus was dead and buried; that the disciples were not prepared for His death, but were totally confused; that the tomb was empty on Easter morning; that the empty tomb did not convince them that Jesus had risen; that Mary thought the body had been stolen.

The Gospel writers also concur that the disciples had certain experiences which they believed to be appearances of the resurrected Christ. That the normative first century Judaism had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah is a historical fact. http://www.bethinking.org/did-jesus-rise-from-the-dead/q-dont-the-resurrection-accounts-contradict-each-other

[additional notes] In Matthew it does not mention that the women did not enter the tomb. It is implicit.

Matthew 28:6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay..v8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Secondly, in Mark it does not mention or imply that the women did not realize the young man was an angel; the "young man" is merely a way of author's reference to the angel. He is an angel is quite implicit.

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    Thanks for your answer, but it would be helpful if you would edit your post to at least summarize the content that you linked to (and/or the work of Michael Licona). We are looking for answers that can stand on their own, with links or references for those who want to pursue an answer further.
    – Soldarnal
    Sep 17, 2016 at 17:42
  • Thank you for your answer, but it still leaves a lot of issues unanswered. For just one example, McDowell says, "Matthew and Mark relate that one angel addressed the women," but he does not address the fact that in Matthew the angel came down from heaven and sat on the stone, outside the tomb, and talked to the women who did not enter the tomb, whereas in Mark the woman saw the young man after they went inside the tomb and they were unaware that he was an angel (if indeed he was). Sep 17, 2016 at 21:57
  • Actually, it does not say they did not go into the tomb, it just does not specifically they went in.But it seems they were directed to "see" the spot. Also it does not they were unaware of the identities, whereas Jn 20:15 does mention identity assumption
    – Will
    May 24, 2017 at 5:50
  • The Titanic analogy is very effective (+1) Mar 6, 2021 at 4:28
  • It's interesting to look at the websites dedicated to those reporting their experiences on the Titanic. There is a desire to harmonize the various reports. Is that a bad thing to do? And than one can compare the claimed stories of the Titanic sinking to Morgan Robertson's 1889 fictional book, "The Wreck of the Titan." How many stories from the sinking of the Titanic can be seen as being parallel to the fictional book?
    – Jess
    Mar 26 at 17:30
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Matthew [...] says that when the two women [...] went to visit the tomb, there was an earthquake

Mark [...] says that when the three women [...] went to visit the tomb, they saw the stone already rolled away.


Let us engage in a very simple exercise of imagination :

Both Matthew and Mark interview the same witness at the at the same time, who relates to both of them the following information simultaneously :

When we/they arrived at the tomb, the stone was rolled away — there was an earthquake.

  • Matthew understands this to mean that, as they were approaching the tomb, the stone rolled away due to an earthquake occurring at right about that very moment.

  • Mark, on the other hand, regards the latter to be an apposition, meant to clarify why the stone was already rolled away by the time of their arrival. Due to his well-known fondness for brevity, he then omits the latter explanatory note entirely. (His entire Gospel, in general, is rather short on details). Later, both Luke and John follow his lead.

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  • Sorry, if I'm just nit-picking. When you state, "the stone rolled away due to an earthquake occurring at right about that very moment", it might a little strong to merely state "due", it's probably better to state that it "strongly suggests/hints that the stone rolled away due to an earthquake" May 10, 2020 at 13:03
  • @crazyTech: See Matthew 27:50-56, for comparison.
    – Lucian
    May 10, 2020 at 13:29
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Peter Carnley says in The Structure of Resurrection Belief that he believes the four accounts do originate in a single story, after redaction by the four evangelists:

There is no suggestion that the tomb was discovered by different witnesses on four different occasions, so it is in fact impossible to argue that the discrepancies were introduced by different witnesses of the one event; rather, they can be explained as four different redactions for apologetic and kerygmatic reasons of a single story originating from one source."

Although we may not be able to identify a single resurrection account from a literal reading of the gospels, Archbishop Carnley's conclusion does suggest a way of harmonising the four accounts by looking through the texts for an original version. We can most readily identify probable elaborations from the putative original by looking for theological reasons for any variations, then what is left will be very close to the original account.

Ian Wilson says, in Jesus: The Evidence, page 143, because the Matthew Gospel alone tells the story of the guard, the violent earthquake and the ‘angel of the Lord’ rolling away the entrance stone, it is probably safest to regard these as pious embroideries by an author demonstrably over-fond of the miraculous. On this view, much of what is found in the Matthew resurrection version comes from the imagination of its author.

Mark has the simplest account, with no hint of angels, and the only surprise would be that the young man knew Jesus was going to Galilee. Most of this account seems to be reflected in the other gospel accounts, apart from some miraculous material in Matthew.

Luke replaces the ordinary, young man by two men, presumably angels because of their shining garments. In this account, Peter runs to the sepulchre and confirms what the women said. The two men in shining garments certainly could be theological elaborations, especially as none of the other gospels has this scene. In ancient times, women were not readily trusted to provide reliable evidence, untainted by emotion, thus providing a reason to have Peter run and confirm what they said.

John's Gospel has elements from Luke's account, which is unsurprising as many scholars now believe that, in other respects, John was influenced by Luke. Arthur J. Droge ('The Status of Peter in the Fourth Gospel: A Note on John 18:10-11', republished on JSTOR) says a number of commentators have observed that the Fourth Gospel exhibits a marked tendency to exalt the Beloved Disciple at the expense of Peter, with frequent episodes in which the Beloved Disciple and Peter appear as rivals. This is certainly true here, as we first see the beloved disciple outrun Peter. Peter, although the first to enter the tomb, did not have enough faith to understand that Jesus had risen. However, the beloved disciple realised this as soon as he entered the tomb. The two angels could not be omitted without raising question from Christians who had seen Luke's Gospel, so Mary returns to the tomb and looks in, seeing the angels inside. This is a rather neat way of giving greater credit to the men, rather than to a woman, while retaining a superficial similarity.

In summary, Matthew, Luke and John each contains elaborations that, when stripped away bring their accounts into relative harmony with Mark's account. Nearly all critical scholars believe that Mark was the first narrative gospel to be written, which means that this account is as close as we can get to the the very first account of Jesus' resurrection.

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    When the differing accounts of any witnesses to any event are stripped of the things that make them different, you are not left with the best description of the event, but merely the things that are common to all the accounts. People are not video recording devices. Your conclusion that the differences constitute pious embellishments is simply what you prefer to believe, and you have just given us the words of someone who prefers to believe what you prefer to believe. And, what's more, you give yourself a tick for doing so.
    – enegue
    May 24, 2017 at 6:46
  • @enegue I agree and would add that since the answer came within 24-hours, there is no genuine interest in what others have to say. The site is being used as a forum to present personal beliefs. I know a question can began with an answer in mind, but when no time is allowed for others to respond, IMO what comes across is both a closed mind to other answers and the intent to promote one's own beliefs. The real question is in the answer to the "straw dog" of a question. May 24, 2017 at 16:51
  • You state: "John's Gospel has elements from Luke's account..." can you provide any evidence to support that claim as it relates to the resurrection? Other than an empty I do not think John has anything from Luke. John is closely aligned with Matthew on the time of day, the number of women, and lack of spices. May 24, 2017 at 20:39
  • @RevelationLad The most obvious parallel between L & J in respect to the empty tomb is that, alone among the synoptics, L has Peter run to the tomb; J embellishes this by having the disciple accompany him. BTW Matthew's empty tomb is the most different of all versions - lack of spices being about the only element it shares with J. May 24, 2017 at 21:35
  • @enegue I repeat what Archbishop Carnley says. There can only have been one event in which a women/several women found the empty tomb. Therefore there can not be differing accounts due to different witnesses. It is also well established that there is a literary relationship among the gospels, which ought to be taken into account in an answer that uses hermeneutic method. May 24, 2017 at 21:44
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[This was a crude article I wrote sometime before when I was studying. So, please bear with me]

The chronology at the Tomb of Jesus Christ

There have been a lot of controversial disputes about the apparent contradictions in the 4 gospels regarding the incidents that took place at the tomb where Jesus was buried. The correct sequence of events, the number of angels appeared to the women etc are all controversial and the skeptics always question the accuracy of the revealed Word of God.

Here is a guide to see the correct sequence of the incidents, involving the women followers and the apostles of Christ, which happened on that first day of the week when the tomb was found empty.

The guiding principle is taken from God’s Word only: “And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:13;ESV).

Isaiah 28:13 says that the Word of God is like a jigsaw puzzle where all the necessary information on a single topic is never given in one place but are scattered all over in the Bible. The diligent student of the Bible must collect all the little and place them line upon line and precept upon precept and study. This is something apostle Paul says, “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (1 Tim 2:15;LITV).

An Example

Let us look at an example. What exactly was written on the cross above Jesus?

Matthew says, “This is Jesus, the king of the jews” (Mat 27:37).

Mark says, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26).

Luke says, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38).

And John says, “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19).

To a skeptic, this is nothing short of a contradiction undermining the trustworthiness of the Word of God! But we know that if we apply God’s principle as provided in Isaiah 28:13, then we come to know what exactly was written on the cross. We collect all the little found in the 4 gospels, place them line upon line and we get the correct precept!

And that is:

“This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews”!!!

Instead of contradiction, we get a wholesome picture!

Similarly, below is a humble effort to do that regarding the incidents described in the 4 gospels about the empty tomb. Without contradiction, following is the sequence of events that happened on that fateful day:

Sequence of Events

First the women led by Mary Magdalene move out from their places. Their big problem was to remove the stone door of the tomb. While they are on their way to the tomb, an angel removes the stone door of the tomb. The women do not see this. Only the soldiers who were guarding the tomb see that. They are terror-stricken and flee from there. The women then come to the site and see the tomb open and empty. They thought somebody took away Jesus’ body.

Worried, they run to the place where the disciples are staying. They report. Peter and John run to the tomb. They too see the open and empty tomb. Perplexed, they go back. The women talking to them accompany them to some distance but Mary stood at the tomb weeping. She sees angels inside but doesn’t go inside. Angels announce the resurrection. She turns back and sees the risen Jesus. She runs to the other ladies. They don’t believe her and all of them run back to the tomb and this time they enter the tomb. The same two angels announce the resurrection.

They again run back to the place of the apostles to report. Jesus meets all of them on their way. They report to the apostles especially Peter. They don’t believe the women. But Peter runs to the tomb again to confirm. From there, Peter goes to his own private place, thinking.

This is the correct sequence. Below all the 4 gospels are given in the same sequence with necessary comments.

  1. (The women set out from their dwelling places)

Mat 28:1 And on the eve of the sabbaths, at the dawn, toward the first of the sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre,

Luk 24:1 And on the first of the sabbaths, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bearing the spices they made ready, and certain others *(*there were several women) with them,

Mar 16:2-3 and early in the morning of the first of the sabbaths, they come unto the sepulchre, at the rising of the sun, and they said among themselves, 'Who shall roll away for us the stone out of the door of the sepulchre?'

  1. (And while the women were on their way, the stone door is removed by an angel ;but the women do not see him; but the guards see and fear)

Mat 28:2-4 and lo, there came a great earthquake, for a messenger of the Lord, having come down out of heaven, having come, did roll away the stone from the door, and was sitting upon it, and his countenance was as lightning, and his clothing white as snow, and from the fear of him did the keepers shake, and they became as dead men (*only the guards are afraid; it means the women did not see the angel removing the stone door. Later when the women see the angels they become afraid!).

  1. (the women see the tomb open and empty with no guards and go to disciples; this time they don’t see the angels)

Joh 20:1 And on the first of the sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene doth come early (there being yet darkness) to the tomb, and she seeth the stone having been taken away out of the tomb (*this clearly shows that the women did not see the angel removing the stone door),

Mar 16:4 And having looked, they see that the stone hath been rolled away—for it was very great,

Luk 24:2-3 and they found the stone having been rolled away from the tomb, and having gone in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

Joh 20:2 she runneth, therefore, and cometh unto Simon Peter, and unto the other disciple whom Jesus was loving, and saith to them, 'They took away the Lord out of the tomb, and we have not known where they laid him.'

  1. (Peter and John run to the tomb and inspect; women follow them to the tomb)

Joh 20:3-10 Peter, therefore, went forth, and the other disciple, and they were coming to the tomb, and the two were running together, and the other disciple did run forward more quickly than Peter, and came first to the tomb, and having stooped down, seeth the linen clothes lying, yet, indeed, he entered not. Simon Peter, therefore, cometh, following him, and he entered into the tomb, and beholdeth the linen clothes lying, and the napkin that was upon his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but apart, having been folded up, in one place; then, therefore, entered also the other disciple who came first unto the tomb, and he saw, and did believe; for not yet did they know the Writing, that it behoveth him out of the dead to rise again. The disciples therefore went away again unto their own friends (*first time Peter went back to his friends with John)

  1. (Peter and John go back and the women accompany them to some distance to see them off but Mary stands at the tomb)

Joh 20:11-13 and Mary was standing near the tomb, weeping without; as she was weeping, then, she stooped down to the tomb, and beholdeth two messengers in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid (*there were actually two angels, one at right and one at left). And they say to her, 'Woman, why dost thou weep?' she saith to them, 'Because they took away my Lord, and I have not known where they laid him;'

  1. (Jesus first meets Mary alone while the other women are away to see off Peter and John)

Joh 20:14-17 and these things having said, she turned backward, and seeth Jesus standing, and she had not known that it is Jesus. Jesus saith to her, 'Woman, why dost thou weep? whom dost thou seek;' she, supposing that he is the gardener, saith to him, 'Sir, if thou didst carry him away, tell me where thou didst lay him, and I will take him away;' Jesus saith to her, 'Mary!' having turned, she saith to him, 'Rabbouni;' that is to say, 'Teacher.' Jesus saith to her, 'Be not touching me, for I have not yet ascended unto my Father; and be going on to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and to your God.'

Mar 16:9 And he, having risen in the morning of the first of the sabbaths, did appear first to Mary the Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven demons;

  1. (Mary finds out the other women but they do not believe her and so they go back to the tomb; meets the angels again)

Mat 28:5-7 And the messenger (*one of the two angels spoke) answering said to the women, 'Fear not ye, for I have known that Jesus, who hath been crucified, ye seek; he is not here, for he rose, as he said; come, see the place where the Lord was lying; and having gone quickly, say ye to his disciples, that he rose from the dead; and lo, he doth go before you to Galilee, there ye shall see him; lo, I have told you.'

Luk 24:4-8 And it came to pass, while they are perplexed about this, that lo, two men stood by them in glittering apparel, and on their having become afraid (* the women also got frightened like the guards when they saw the angels), and having inclined the face to the earth, they said to them, 'Why do ye seek the living with the dead? he is not here, but was raised; remember how he spake to you, being yet in Galilee, saying—It behoveth the Son of Man to be delivered up to the hands of sinful men, and to be crucified, and the third day to rise again.' And they remembered his sayings,

Mar 16:5-8 and having entered into the sepulcher (*Mary first when alone did not enter the tomb but all women together entered the tomb the second time), they saw a young man sitting on the right hand (* there were actually two angels, one sitting at the head and one at the feet on the platform where Jesus’ body had been lain), arrayed in a long white robe, and they were amazed. And he saith to them, 'Be not amazed, ye seek Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified: he did rise—he is not here; lo, the place where they laid him! and go, say to his disciples, and Peter (* this is the reason why Peter ran to the tomb a second time when the women reported that they saw Jesus), that he doth go before you to Galilee; there ye shall see him, as he said to you.' And, having come forth quickly, they fled from the sepulchre, and trembling and amazement had seized them, and to no one said they anything, for they were afraid.

  1. (All the women run to tell the disciples)

Mat 28:8 And having gone forth quickly from the tomb, with fear and great joy, they ran to tell to his disciples;

  1. (Jesus meets all the women together on their way to the disciples)

Mat 28:9-10 and as they were going to tell to his disciples, then lo, Jesus met them, saying, 'Hail!' and they having come near, laid hold of his feet, and did bow to him. Then saith Jesus to them, 'Fear ye not, go away, tell to my brethren that they may go away to Galilee, and there they shall see me.'

Luk 24:10 And it was the Magdalene Mary, and Joanna, and Mary of James, and the other women with them, who told unto the apostles these things,

  1. (Apostles don’t believe them but Peter goes again alone to the tomb)

Joh 20:18 Mary the Magdalene cometh, telling to the disciples that she hath seen the Lord, and that these things he said to her.

Mar 16:10-11 she having gone, told those who had been with him, mourning and weeping; and they, having heard that he is alive, and was seen by her, did not believe.

Luk 24:9-12 and having turned back from the tomb told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. And it was the Magdalene Mary, and Joanna, and Mary of James, and the other women with them, who told unto the apostles these things, and their sayings appeared before them as idle talk, and they were not believing them. And Peter having risen, did run to the tomb (* this is the second time Peter ran to the tomb because he was specially mentioned in Mar 16:7), and having stooped down he seeth the linen clothes lying alone, and he went away to his own home (* first time he went back with John to his friends (John 20:10) but this time he went to his own place), wondering at that which was come to pass.

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First of all, one has to decide whether the authors of the four Gospels are getting all their info from eye-witnesses. This is unlikely. The oldest Gospel was Mark (c. 60 CE)--forty years after the death of Jesus. Individuals do not write a Gospel; it requires an entire community. Different communities have different interests and different needs. That's why Matthew preserves one story and John, twenty years later, preserves quite a different story. Furthermore, John's Gospel shows no direct dependence upon Matthew's Gospel.

Secondly, one has to decide whether, due to divine inspiration, each author receives some fresh perspectives due to their own personal inspiration.

In the past, it was not unusual to regard biblical inspiration as a “spirit-possession” whereby the creative faculties of each Gospel author were taken over to such a degree that every word written was "dictated by the Holy Spirit." In the past century, however, it became necessary to think that Matthew made full use of his own faculties as a creative/inventive author when writing.

To compose the sacred books, God has chosen certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more (CCC:106).

Thirdly, one has to note that the evangelists are not so much interested in what actually happened as they are interested in linking events to Sacred Scripture:

The early communities were not recalling the ‘facts’ of the death of Jesus. They were about the business of making sense of it. Here it is not a question of history remembered but of prophecy historicised. They began looking for prophecies that would help them understand the social disgrace of the death of Jesus. The use of scriptural citations of Psalms (Ps. 2:1,7; 16:8–11; 22:1, 18, 22; 69:21, 30; 110:1; 132:11) and Prophets (Am. 8:9; Is. 50:6, 7; Zch. 12:10) became a shorthand way of dealing with the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Source: [Arthur Dewey, "The memorable invention of the death of Jesus"]

The upshot of this is that there can be no final answer to the question asked. Matthew presents Mary as learning of the resurrection from angels. Matthew, when writing, made use of Mark's Gospel. In almost every instance, however, Matthew does not slavishly repeat Mark. He is continually altering (expanding and contracting) the text of Mark. Here is what Mark writes:

16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.16:6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (NRSV)

Witness = one young man Message = Go to Galilee to see him. Outcome = terrorized, they tell no one

Matthew alters this accordingly:

Matthew 28:2-8 NRSV

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. [NRSV]

Witnesses = earthquake + angel like lightning Message = Go to Galilee to see him. Outcome = with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples (only the Roman guards were terrorized into silence) Notice the changes that Matthew makes. We must believe that he knew that he was vastly IMPROVING the story and saving the reputations of the two women.

When we read John's Gospel, nearly nothing of Matthew's text remains:

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.20:13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.20:15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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."20:16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).20:17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 20:18 Mary Magdalene [=MM] went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord";

Witnesses = two angels in white Message = (2x) why are you weeping? + I am ascending! Outcome = only MM goes to tell his disciples Notice that John entirely changes the messages and introduces the theme of "she did not know that it was Jesus." This latter theme has great importance for John's story! How do I know this? Because when the seven go fishing, "the disciples did not know that it was Jesus" (John 21:4).

Why does MM and the seven disciples see and hear Jesus without recognizing him?

The dead body of Jesus was severely marked with slashes, bruises, dried blood. This same body must have been massively healed. Did Jesus have his hair combed and his beard trimmed? Unclear. But the solution has to do with the fact that Jesus himself does not insist on facial recognition; rather, "he showed them his hands and his side" (John 20:20). Thomas, also, does not trust facial recognition. What is the message here?

Perhaps it is this: The true Jesus is the one who is alive and is not ashamed to bear the marks of his martyrdom. You will know him by these marks.

Artists are also interpreters.

Q1: Why are the four gospel accounts of the empty tomb so different?

A1: The Gospels were not intended to be police reports of what happened. Rather, they are interpretations of events. They are trying to capture the saving significance of Jesus of Nazareth. Different authors imbedded in different communities wrote by way of addressing the concerns and interests of their members.

Q2: How do we reconcile them?

A2: We don't need to reconcile them. Rather we need to allow that the process of interpretating Jesus goes on at all times and in all places. If you freeze-dry Jesus in one epoch, you will kill his relevancy to those who came earlier and those who come later. Jesus is not afraid to say to us, "Who do you say that I am?"

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