(#12) There Would Be Harmony in the Resurrection Accounts (Preface)

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When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Matthew 28:17

Over the last several days, we have looked at some of the charges levelled against the resurrection accounts due to supposed conflicts in numbers, timing, events and places. I believe a rational view of these things, however, leads us to see them as harmonious rather than contradictory. 

This is especially true when we understand that historical narratives are, by both necessity and purpose, highly selective in their records. 

We saw this particularly in Luke’s Gospel, where it might seem as if Jesus appeared to the disciples on that first day and then led them out to Olivet and ascended into heaven. However, Luke continues his narrative in Acts, opening with the summary that Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples after His resurrection and before His ascension. This is clear evidence that Luke had, in the Gospel account, given us a typical “telescoping” view of selected events. Therefore, when he writes “Now He said to them…”, in 24:44, Luke has skipped forward and is picking up the story as Jesus and the disciples are now back in Jerusalem just before His ascension.

We also looked at the accusation that the women’s visit to the tomb was filled with contradictions: dark or after the sun had arisen; Magdalene alone or multiple women; did they see no angels, two angels or one; did they tell the disciples or did they tell nobody? And, we looked at the accusation that the times and places of the appearances of Jesus to the disciples are quite contrary. 

Yet, in all of these, we found that seeming contradictions can be understood with plain logic and reason… if one truly wants to understand.

What we haven’t done, however, is to put all of this together in one harmonious narrative. I would like to do that and give you my perspective of how all of it is in such wonderful harmony, with the strong caveat that I am not rewriting Scripture here. I’m just putting together what I might say sitting out on the deck with my children and grandchildren, recounting the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

Before we can do that, however, I want to lay out ten “footnotes” that might be considered “asides” to the resurrection story. Some are simple clarifications as to why, for example, I talk of the soldiers being Roman or why we are leaving out the last chapter in John. Some notes explain more complex assumptions, like how we deal with the abrupt ending in Mark or how the women were most likely coming from different places that morning. Tomorrow, you may want to refer to these as we walk through the harmonized story. Here are the “footnotes:

(1) If we read Matthew and Mark, they both say that there were “many” women who were following Jesus and that “many” had come up to Jerusalem with Him. There are six names given to us. In (Day 6) we agreed to refer to them in the following way to avoid confusion: 

  • Mary (mother of Jesus); 
  • Magdalene (Mary Magdalene); 
  • Aunt Mary (sister of Mary, the “other Mary”, wife of Clopas, mother of James and Joses/Joseph); 
  • Salome (wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John); 
  • Joanna (wife of Chuza, manager of Herod’s household) and 
  • Suzanna (one cured of evil spirits/diseases)

If these are named and we have “many more”, then it is reasonable that the number of women supporting Jesus could have been a couple of dozen at least. If so, it is also reasonable that they had some informal leadership among themselves and to assume that Magdalene, Aunt Mary and Salome were looked up to by the other women as providing that internal leadership. 

It is also reasonable to think that if so many had come to Jerusalem and were present at the crucifixion, then there may have been as many as twelve who were preparing spices to anoint Jesus’ body and headed to the tomb that resurrection morning, possibly in small groups led by these women. This will lead us to consider that there were several groups that had planned to meet at the tomb that morning.

(2) Jesus and Lazarus seemed to be very close and it is likely His lodging in Bethany had been at the home of Lazarus. It is reasonable to think, therefore, that John had taken Mary back there after the crucifixion. It also seems reasonable that her sister, Aunt Mary, would have been with her, including those women who were her companions. So, Aunt Mary and her companions would have headed to the tomb on Sunday morning from Bethany. Joanna, married to the manager of Herod’s household, was no doubt living in the wealthy part of Jerusalem, the Upper City, and we will assume that Salome and a couple other women were staying with her. They would have headed to the tomb from there. Magdalene and her companions, we might also presume, were staying in the Lower City. With this, we could have easily had three sets of women, at a minimum, heading to the tomb that morning from three different locations somewhat distant from each other: Bethany, the Upper City and the Lower City.

(3) The statements by the angels in Matthew and Mark are virtually the same. This leads me to believe that this is actually the record of one event. Therefore, the angel that was sitting on the stone had left and reappeared in the tomb, speaking to the women who saw him as a “young man wearing a white robe”.

(4) I have chosen to leave out Mark 16:9-20, since it is not found in the older manuscripts[1].

(5) Peter made a second visit to the tomb. The account in John when Peter and John ran to the tomb is not the same as the visit Peter made recorded in Luke 24:12. This is also reasonable. Peter and John ran to the tomb after Magdalene had told them she found it empty. She had not seen an angel yet. All Peter and John knew was that His body was gone. In Luke, however, all the women had now arrived where the disciples were staying. They were telling stories of angels and seeing Jesus. Peter, hearing all of this, then went to the tomb a second time. The first time he didn’t understand; the second time it was beginning to dawn on him, for he left “marveling at what had happened”. Because of the timing, it seems that Jesus would have appeared to him after he had returned to where he was staying.

(6) We have left out the last chapter of John in all of this, not because it isn’t a great record of Jesus and the disciples fishing and then His dialogue with Peter, but because there is little controversy there.

(7) There is a difficult statement in Mark due to its abrupt ending. The final verse tells us that the women saw the angels and were told to tell the disciples, but “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Some have understandably charged that this raises a clear contradiction, because the other accounts tell us that the women did indeed tell the disciples. How do we handle this? We can appeal to the apparent loss of the ending to Mark and state that the contradiction comes because we don’t have the rest of his account. I think that is valid, but there is also an easy explanation that still allows for some of the women being afraid and therefore not telling the disciples. Here is a possible scenario, remembering that it is quite reasonable to think there were as many as a dozen women involved that morning, coming to the tomb from various starting locations: the women who went to the tomb with Magdalene and were left there when she ran to tell Peter were joined later by Aunt Mary and her companions. They would all then naturally go into the tomb, where an angel appears to them and tells them to go tell the disciples. Aunt Mary and her companions do so, but Magdalene’s group, having generated a considerable amount of fear while waiting, simply break off at that point and head back to Galilee, telling no one. This provides a consistency with Matthew and Mark’s abrupt, and possibly incomplete, ending.

(8) It seems to me that the guards would have been Roman soldiers and not Temple guards. The Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus and they oversaw His crucifixion. It seems reasonable they would have been the ones posted at the tomb.

(9) We will be using a map of Jerusalem from the time of Jesus as a reference for the harmonized story. I have chosen to use the traditional site of the crucifixion and tomb rather than the Garden Tomb simply because there are so many who still believe the traditional site is correct. However, either site fits the movements and timelines quite well. We will also assume the traditional location of the Upper Room.

(10) Matthew doesn’t record any of the appearances of Jesus with the disciples in Jerusalem but goes directly to the mountain in Galilee. This is the opposite of Luke, who only records the appearances in Jerusalem. Many people mistakenly think that Jesus ascended after He gave the “Great Commission” at the end of Matthew, but the disciples returned to Jerusalem after that. Jesus met them there and then took them to Olivet where He ascended. But, it seems clear that the meeting on the mountain which Matthew records is most likely also when the 500+ were assembled. There is a small hint for us in Matthew:

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Matthew 28:17

It is a stretch to think that this is talking about just the disciples. It is more reasonable to conclude that the 500+ were on the mountain as well and some in that large group doubted.

Isn’t it interesting? Who can imagine seeing the risen Lord and doubting? Yet, we see the same today. We have all of this evidence, and some still doubt… some remain blind.

Given all of these ten footnotes and everything that we have considered up to this point, here is how I would then relate the harmonized resurrection story to my children and grandchildren… (to be continued)

[1] Most biblical scholars consider these verses to have been added later. The Greek used is not common to Mark’s writing up to this point and early church fathers either do not appear to know of these verses or state they aren’t in early manuscripts available to them. I am of the opinion that the ending of Mark, in the original manuscripts, was lost. Someone later felt it necessary to add their own ending. It is best to not rely upon it.

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