Why does Mary Magdalene in John 20:2 tell the John and Peter, "we do not know where they have laid him", if she and the other women were already told by the angels that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:1-12)?


I find the post-resurrection narratives of the Gospels fascinating--this is one of a number of good questions that come by comparing them side by side.

The simplistic scenario

It's easy to picture the women all leaving the tomb in a single group and going to talk to the disciples, all of whom are also waiting somewhere in a single group. I very much doubt this is what happened.

How fast can Mary Magdalene run?

Comparing the 4 Gospel accounts it appears that the group of women did not all stay together, but Mary Magdalene rushed off to find Peter & John. Given that at least some of the other women in the group were old enough to have adult children, maybe they left the scene a little more slowly. Mary, Peter, and John come back [apparently John runs fast too =) ], and after Peter & John leave, Mary sees Jesus.

Before long the other women get in touch with others of Jesus' followers, and it is probable that they do not all relate the incredible experience they had using exactly the same words.

Perplexed and afraid

It's worth noting that the women are described with words like "perplexed" and "afraid" after hearing the news from the angels. As Dottard noted, it looks like neither the women nor the apostles immediately understood what was going on. In fairness to them, they were experiencing something unprecedented.

A plausible timeline

(similar to Dottard's; I'm going to add in some additional details from the other Gospels that may help clarify the passages cited in the OP)

  1. Mary, Mary, Joanna, Salome, and possibly others go to the tomb early in the morning and find it empty. They are informed by an angel that Jesus has risen, and they are unsure what to make of it. (Mark 16:1, Luke 24: 4-5,10)
  2. Mary Magdalene hurries off to find Peter & John (John 20:2)
  3. The other 3+ women leave in an unknown number of groups (Matt 28:8)
  4. Mary Magdalene informs Peter & John that the Lord's body is missing (John 20:2)
  5. John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene hurry back to the tomb. John & Peter, finding it empty, leave, whereas Mary stays (John 20:3-11)
  6. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20: 14-16)
  7. Jesus ascends to His Father (compare John 20:17 & Matt 28:9)
  8. Jesus appears to at least 2 (maybe more) of the other women that came to the tomb that morning (Matt 28:9)
  9. The women start sharing with a variety of individuals what happened to them that morning; it is unclear how many of them have seen Jesus at this point (at least 3 have). Mary Magdalene now has new information vs #4 (Luke 24:9-10)
  10. Most people don't believe the women (Luke 24:11)
  11. Jesus appears to a group of his disciples that evening (Luke 24:36 & John 20:19)

Somewhere after #6 and before #11 Jesus also appears to Peter and to 2 individuals on the road to Emmaus.


Good question! It is apparent that the women either did not believe the angel, or, more probably, were so upset and shaken the previous day's events that they did not hear properly what the angels had said.

Note Luke 24:11 -

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

The women, including Mary Magdalene, probably came to the same view. Even in John's version, Mary does not believe the angels - it is only when she speaks to Jesus that she finally believes and then returns to tell the eleven disciples.

But they do not believe it until Jesus appears to them later that same day, in the evening in the upper room. Thus, the sequence of events appears to be:

  • The women, including Mary Magdalene, go to the tomb early on Sunday morning
  • Angels, speak to the women and tell them "Jesus is risen"
  • The women, excluding Mary Magdalene, return to the disciples
  • meanwhile Mary Magdalene meets and speaks to Jesus
  • Mary then returns to the disciples
  • Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room that evening

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