In Matthew 28:1, 5-6, 8, an angelic message brought joy to Mary Magdalene by informing her that Jesus rose (NKJV, emphasis added):

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. [...] But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” [...] So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

In John's account, however, Mary Magdalene's joy of knowing her Savior was risen does not appear to come from angels. Instead, it wasn't until Jesus Himself spoke with her that she had the joy of knowing He still lived (John 1:11-16, NKJV, emphasis added):

But Mary [revealed in verse 1 to be "Mary Magdalene"] stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then 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.” Now 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?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, 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, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

Notice that even after the angels speak with her, she is still trying to find the body of Jesus and asks the "gardener" where the body may be. It isn't until the "gardener" says her name that she realized it was Jesus.

Who first persuaded Mary Magdalene that Jesus was risen, Jesus or one of the angels? How can the accounts be reconciled?

4 Answers 4


The usual explanation for this is simple:

  • Matthew did not record the part of the story about Mary meeting Jesus personally
  • John did not record the part of the story about Mary speaking to the angels

Thus we may reconstruct the sequence of events something like this:

  • Mary went to the empty tomb,
  • found the tomb empty,
  • the angels told Mary that Jesus had risen
  • Mary found the angel's statement incredible,
  • Mary then met Jesus but mistook Him for the gardener
  • Mary recognizes Jesus
  • Mary returns with great Joy to tell the other disciples

This agrees with both accounts

  • 1
    This is also indicative of eyewitness testimonies where there's no collusion between witnesses or biographers. Different people see different things at different times in the same event. Events are always abstracted or summarized in different ways when different people retell them.
    – Dieter
    Commented Mar 8 at 19:41
  • 1
    @Dieter - I strongly agree - that is presumably why there were four people to record the gospels.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 8 at 20:42


If God is the real Author of the Bible, then there should be a special reason why He selected four writers to describe the life of Jesus. We must not limit our study only to one writer. All the four writers together provide the whole picture.

So Matthew, Mark, Luke and John provide different bits of the jigsaw puzzle, all of which complete the full picture.

The Sequence

The women including Mary Magdalene reach the tomb and find the stone removed (John 20:1).

They enter the tomb (in groups, people are less afraid) and find the body of Jesus missing (Luke 24:3).

They run to the place of disciples and inform them about the empty tomb (John 20:2). Peter and John run to the tomb, see the clothes inside the tomb and go back to their place (John 20:3-10). The other ladies accompany them to some distance to say good bye.

But Mary stands weeping at the entrance of the tomb alone. She sees two angels in the tomb. They talk (John 20:11-13). But she doesn’t go inside (alone she is afraid to enter).

Outside, Jesus meets her alone at first (John 20:14-17; Mark 16:9).

Mary finds the other women and tells them. They don’t believe her. All of them go to the tomb and enter it (Mark 16:5). (As a group, they find courage to enter the tomb). They see the angels again and get afraid (Luke 24:5). One of the angels tells them to inform the disciples especially Peter (Mark 16:7). They run trembling to the disciples’ place (Mark 16:8).

Trembling with fear and yet with great joy, they run to tell the disciples about the risen Jesus (John 20:18; Luke 24:9) but Jesus meets all of them together on their way (Mat 28:8-10).

The apostles don’t believe them (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11).

But since Peter’s name was mentioned specially by the angels (Mark 16:7), he alone runs to the tomb, sees the clothes again. But this time he goes back to “his own home” (Luke 24:12).


Mary with other women sees the empty tomb and tells the disciples about the empty tomb. She alone meets the angels and then Jesus meets her alone. Again, other ladies and Mary meet the angels. Jesus meets all of them on their way to the disciples.

So many events happened that day which are not contradictions but smaller details.


Jesus wouldn’t deceive her. He was as confused as she was. Angels lied to her, shame! Kidding. This is an incredible love story. I never heard of this. I love it! I’m not religious, either was Jesus, Fact. I’m spiritual, that’s all we need unless a church has a good community stick w/ it. I read the Bible. The parts that are reasonable n seem paradoxical, I believe the universe is one infinite paradox (sonething humans can never fully comprehend). Jesus is my type a dude, a REBEL.

  • 1
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 8 at 4:18

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 authors 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: 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:

Mark 16:5-8 NRSV

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. 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. 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." 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.

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

2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

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:

John 20:11-18 NRSV

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 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.'" 18 Mary Magdalene 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 Mary Magdalene 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 do Mary Magdalene and the seven see and hear Jesus without recognizing him?

The dead body of Jesus was severely marked with slashes, bruises, and 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?

Do not trust facial recognition. 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.

Keep in mind that only in John's Gospel does the Roman soldier "pierce his side." Here is the text:

John 19:33-37 NRSV

33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." 37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

Here are the passion fulfillment texts in Mark:

  • 14:18 Betrayal by friends Ps 41:9
  • 14:34 A soul full of sorrow Pss 42:6, 11; 43:5
  • 15:24 Garments divided Ps 22:18
  • 15:29 Derision of onlookers Pss 22:7; 109:25
  • 15:34 ‘My God, my God ...’ Ps 22:1
  • 15:36 Vinegar to drink Ps 69:21

So, in John’s Gospel, the author introduces two brand new fulfillment texts: Ps 34:20 and Zech 12:10 [clearly misquoted so as to fit the context in John's passion story]: See The Case of Mistaken Piercing in Zechariah 12:10 and John 19:37.

Now, to completely affirm how Gospel writers were keen to bring in fulfillment texts into their narrative, let's look at Matthew's Gospel. Does the "piercing his side" text find its way into your translation of Matt 27:49? Check it out. Some manuscripts have it; some don't. The suspicion is that some copyists were so influenced by John's use of Zech 12:10 that they inserted it into Matthew's Gospel that they were copying. To understand this corruption of ancient texts, see Matthew 27:49 Was Jesus Pierced before His Death?.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.