Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory?

If the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is the most important and foundational truth of the Christian faith, how come the New Testament accounts of the resurrection and Jesus’ appearances are so contradictory? That is a relatively widespread response in atheist/apologetic circles, and I think amongst Muslim critics of the Christian faith. I think this one, in a blog raising objections to Christian faith, is a good example:

How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection? Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).

When Jesus died, did an earthquake open the graves of many people, who walked around Jerusalem and were seen by many? Only Matthew reports this remarkable event. It’s hard to imagine any reliable version of the story omitting this zombie apocalypse.

The different accounts of the resurrection are full of contradictions like this. They can’t even agree on whether Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover (John) or the day after (the other gospels)…[a list of other contradictions]

Many Christians cite the resurrection as the most important historical claim that the Bible makes. If the resurrection is true, they argue, the gospel message must be taken seriously. I’ll agree with that. But how reliable is an account riddled with these contradictions?

It might be argued that, for Christians, the Easter Octave that we are in is a time for celebrating the truth of the resurrection, and not a time for nit-picking. But it seems that there are certainly questions out there, and there might be questions ‘in here’ too! In my experience, Bible-reading Christians have more questions than we often allow for! One of the last comments on the blog says:

The best way to lose faith in the Bible is to actually read the book, viewing all the absurdities, atrocities and contradictions. No wonder many Christians have not, or that non-believers show greater knowledge of it.

But actually reading the Bible simpliciter is not enough—at least, if we read it in the way we would read a car maintenance manual, or a modern novel, or a newspaper report—which is how many of the people in the blog discussion appear to be doing.  David Cavanagh, of the Salvation Army in Italy, comments online:

Some “conservative” or “traditional” Christians believe that Scripture is inspired and therefore must be historically (and, in some cases, scientifically) “accurate” or “true”.

Some “liberal” or “revisionist” Christians, recognising that there is much in Scripture which is difficult to square with “history” and “science”, argue that the Bible cannot be the definitive guide to Christian faith and life.

Both fail to recognise that they are imposing anachronistic and alien criteria of historiographical and scientific “accuracy” and “truth” onto ancient texts which function according to different dynamics

If our criterion of proof (from either side) is that we require the gospels to be modern historical accounts before we will trust them, then we have a basic problem—not just with the resurrection, but with any historical event that happened prior to the invention of the camera. We cannot separate our process of reading from our expectations of what we will find, and as we read we need to recognise three issues.

First, the gospel accounts of the resurrection, like all the events in the gospels, are highly compressed. Just think about what you have been doing in the last week, and how you might give a written account of what has happened; how many words would you need to offer even a basic outline? Many more than we have in the gospels!

Secondly, this means that the gospel writers have been highly selective in what they have described. The writer of the Fourth Gospel in fact confesses to this.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book…Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 20.30, 21.25).

I cannot make my mind up whether this has been written with a sense of excitement at the publishing possibilities, or with a weary sigh at the effort of writing! But the point is that in any of the gospels, and even in them all put together, we do not have a full account of Jesus’ ministry, nor a mention of all the people that he engaged with. Hence it is perfectly possible for Luke to record Paul recalling words of Jesus that we do not have in the gospels (Acts 20.35), and that the naming of individuals relates to their importance in the early Christian community (according to the argument of Richard Bauckham). Notice, for example, that John 20.1 only mentions Mary Magdalene, but that her report to the disciples in the next verse says ‘We do not know where they have taken him’, making it clear that, whilst she alone is mentioned, she is not alone.

Thirdly, we need to recognise that the gospel writers are less concerned with chronology than we are, and are content to rearrange elements of their stories in order to make a theological point or tell us what they think the significance is of an action or teaching of Jesus. The most glaring example is Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’, which wasn’t a sermon and didn’t happen on a mountain, but it is something that we find everywhere. Surely Luke’s ‘Journey to Jerusalem’ motif from Luke 9.51 onwards is not there to tell us exactly when Jesus taught what, but to show (especially to his Gentile readers) the central importance of Jerusalem to Jesus’ ministry.

Bearing these things in mind, is it still possible to believe that the different accounts (not just in the gospels, but also in Acts, and Paul’s account in 1 Cor 15) are derived from a consistent series of actual events, rather than being ‘legendary’? If there are irreconcilable differences, then I think we need to take the challenge above seriously—but as I have demonstrated in relation to the ‘most difficult contradiction in the New Testament’, the two accounts of Judas’ death in Matt 27.3–8 and Acts 1.18, supposed contradictions are often (under careful scrutiny) not what they appear to be.

There is a good attempt to set out the underlying events (a better term than ‘harmonise’) on this Bible questions website, based on the work of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona:

  • Jesus is buried, as several women watch (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).
  • The tomb is sealed and a guard is set (Matthew 27:62-66).
  • At least 3 women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, prepare spices to go to the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1).
  • An angel descends from heaven, rolls the stone away, and sits on it. There is an earthquake, and the guards faint (Matthew 28:2-4).
  • The women arrive at the tomb and find it empty. Mary Magdalene leaves the other women there and runs to tell the disciples (John 20:1-2).
  • The women still at the tomb see two angels who tell them that Jesus is risen and who instruct them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1-8).
  • The women leave to bring the news to the disciples (Matthew 28:8).
  • The guards, having roused themselves, report the empty tomb to the authorities, who bribe the guards to say the body was stolen (Matthew 28:11-15).
  • Mary the mother of James and the other women, on their way to find the disciples, see Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10).
  • The women relate what they have seen and heard to the disciples (Luke 24:9-11).
  • Peter and John run to the tomb, see that it is empty, and find the grave clothes (Luke 24:12; John 20:2-10).
  • Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb. She sees the angels, and then she sees Jesus (John 20:11-18).
  • Later the same day, Jesus appears to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
  • Still on the same day, Jesus appears to Cleopas and another disciple on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).
  • That evening, the two disciples report the event to the Eleven in Jerusalem (Luke 24:32-35).
  • Jesus appears to ten disciples—Thomas is missing (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25).
  • Jesus appears to all eleven disciples—Thomas included (John 20:26-31).
  • Jesus appears to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25).
  • Jesus appears to about 500 disciples in Galilee (1 Corinthians 15:6).
  • Jesus appears to his half-brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
  • Jesus commissions his disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).
  • Jesus teaches his disciples the Scriptures and promises to send the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-5).
  • Jesus ascends into heaven (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-12).

This matches the similar outline given by the late Michael Green in The Empty Cross of Jesus (first ed, p 122); a similar one on the fundamentalist website Answers in Genesis has a nice animated graphic map of Jerusalem, though unfortunately it uses the modern (rather than ancient) outline of the city, and assumes ‘Gordon’s Calvary’ and the Garden Tomb as the historic site, rather than the more probable site now marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But points made about distances and journey times still stand. (See other variations here and, less convincingly, here.)

Out of this, there are some important and interesting things to note. The first (ironically) is the very marked diversity between the accounts. In most of the earlier episodes of the gospel narratives, we are able to distinguish between the ‘Synoptics’ (Matthew, Mark and Luke) who take a broadly similar approach (most often based on the narrative framework of Mark, which Matthew and Luke never agree against) and the quite different view of John. Within that, we note the ‘double tradition’ of Matthew and Luke, which has led to the belief in a lost written source ‘Q’ that they both drew on (though its existence is disputed). But in the resurrection narratives, all these groupings and relationships seem to disappear. This is the point in the story where, despite agreement on the central facts (which we will return to), each gospel writer appears to have both a distinct concern in communication and a distinct set of sources. For example, Matthew locates Jesus’ Great Commission to take the good news to the Gentiles in Galilee—what an apt setting—to signify the change from the earlier instruction in Matt 15.24 only to go to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’. But Luke continues his focus on Jerusalem, and doesn’t make reference to Galilee appearances, whilst John includes both, though with a characteristically Jerusalem angle, which would fit the author of the gospel being the Jerusalemite ‘beloved disciple.’

The second thing to note is the inclusion, especially in Luke and John, of important personal details. Both the account of the appearance on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 and the scene at the garden tomb in John 20 include numerous ‘personal realism’ details, which is what makes the stories so engaging and compelling to most readers. Alongside this, I have been struck with how little symbolism there is in the account of John 20; for example, why does the writer record that the ‘other disciple’ can run faster than Peter, and reaches the tomb first, only for Peter to then barge past him—unless that is how it happened? The account appears to make nothing significant or symbolic of this detail. If the gospel writers are indeed relying on different eye-witness testimony, then that fits well with the nature of the stories as we have them, and accounts well for the diversity of the accounts.

Thirdly, readers familiar with these stories might not have realised how well the stories fit with historical reality of the first century. Only the family tombs of the relatively wealthy would have disk-like round stones closing the entrance which need to be rolled away (and there are more and more examples of these being excavated year by year); the entrances are often quite low, so you would indeed need to stoop down to see the inside (John 20.5) and the space (unlike a modern ‘tomb’) can indeed be ‘entered’ (Mark 16.5). But you cannot see everything from the outside, so if there were heavenly beings at the head and the foot of the space where the body was laid (John 20.12), then you would not see both from the outside. And the dead were indeed wrapped with two different cloths, one wound round the body, and a separate one (the soudarion, John 20.7) around the head, which would be left in two, neat, folded piles were the body to be miraculously removed. (I am surprised to find that very many modern readers still do not understand that significance of this detail, and why it led the ‘other disciple’ to ‘believe’ that something extraordinary had happened.) These historical details connect with other correlations, including those related to the trial, death and burial of Jesus, which indicate actual historical events as the common source.

But all these diverse perspectives appear to circle around a series of core facts, on which all the accounts seem to agree:

  • That women first went to the tomb early on the Sunday morning;
  • That the stone had been rolled away, and that the tomb was empty;
  • That there were angelic beings present;
  • That some male disciples came to the tomb in response to the report of the women, and found the same;
  • That the consistent response of all the disciples (both men and women) was a mixture of wonder, confusion, and fear;
  • That Jesus himself appear to a wide range of people on different occasions;
  • That the people he met consistently failed to recognise him at first, quite possibly as a result of their lack of expectation;
  • That he was both bodily, in the sense that he could be touched, and he ate, and yet he was also transformed, in that he could appear and disappear at will;
  • That after a period of time, he was taken up to heaven.

If there were contradictions in these central events—or if the portrayal of the disciples was less unflattering, or the first witnesses being women was less embarrassing—then I think we would have grounds to consider the accounts ‘legendary’. As it is, I think the criticisms that we started with are based on false expectations, and fail to note the remarkable agreements of the very diverse accounts. (Previously published the last two years but, by all accounts, worth repeating again!)

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41 thoughts on “Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory?”

  1. Thanks as always, Ian. The thing that struck me this year, which I’d never really noticed before in Mark 16:7, was that they were told to tell the disciples and Peter (that in itself is interesting – wasn’t he one by then?) to go to Galilee, there they would see him – ?not in Jerusalem?

    • Is there any reason that they shouldn’t go to both locations during the 50 days leading up to Pentecost? It is worth noting that Actds 1.3 does not say where Jesus did his teaching for 40 days, and the command to ‘remain in Jerusalem’ was issued near the end of that period, and relates to what to do after he leaves, not what do to up until then…

      • My only question would be why in Matthew 28:17 did some of the disciples doubt?

        Going off of Luke and John, Jesus appeared at least twice to them all (once for Thomas) and had allowed them to touch him.

        Why would they still doubt Jesus at that point in time with them going to Galilee after that as that would be at least the fourth appearance of Jesus to the eleven?


    • Mark 16.7 is not actually an instruction to GO to Galilee but rather information about the Risen Christ’s plans. The Greek literally reads: “But go, say to the disciples and to Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
      Of course it carries the implication that those who receive the message should indeed go to Galilee, but it doesn’t preclude appearances in Jerusalem in that first week either. The Jerusalem appearances are only to the eleven and to the women who went to the tomb. The bulk of Jesus’s followers were presumably from Galilee, although Acts will focus on the church in Jerusalem. Luke-Acts makes no reference to appearances in Galilee.
      Remember that Jerusalem was full of pilgrims from Galilee in any case and they would soon be returning home. Matthew 28.16 recounts that the eleven disciples went to Galilee “to the mountain which Jesus determined” – but exactly where and when Jesus said this is not specified elsewhere. Why on a mountain? Although this text mentions only the eleven, could this also be the location where the five hundred saw him on one occasion (1 Cor 15.6)? A crowd of that size could only meet outside and a hill away from the towns could give relative privacy.

  2. Thanks for this Ian. I’ve made this comment before but maybe it bears repeating. We are often told by sceptics that because the resurrection accounts do not fully tally with each other they must be fictitious. Believers reply that because they do not tally word for word this shows that there was no collusion and the accounts are more credible. I believe the latter is a more compelling explanation and the following experience might be a helpful illustration.

    I was a solicitor practicing in the criminal courts in the early 1980s in the days before police interviews were taped or videoed. There was a widespread practice whereby the police made written notes of an interview with a suspect and then they ‘wrote up their notes’ together in their official notebooks. It will be no surprise to hear that police officers would make sure that the accounts in their notebooks agreed with each other word for word. That was not because they had infallible memories – it was because the police colluded to produce a (not always accurate but invariably incriminating) list of admissions by the suspect. Incredibly this practice was officially sanctioned. Producing a common account was often a vehicle for false evidence and miscarriage of justice. The police made sure that the suspect said what they wanted him to say.

    So my experience is that giving people the opportunity to produce a common version of an incident is a recipe for distortion. The fact that the Gospel writers did not do this (and that the church did not afterwards try to suppress the differing accounts) speaks to their authenticity.

    • Me too Andrew, as legal aid defence and sometime Crown Prosecution Service agent. Differences can add to credibility, unless you were a defence lawyer when it could be claimed, not that they lacked veracity, but we’re mistaken.
      However, when the police notes were written together, as soon as reasonably practicable, they could emphasise, and jog memories of what was central.
      Even so this was in matters of evidence in criminal courts with a standard of proof which is higher than in civil matters, such as in the NT, a standard of “balance of probabilities”.
      And of course you’ll recall the rules of evidence relating to eyewitness accounts RvTurnbull, again in criminal cases.
      All the laws and rules of evidence seeking to establish the key point of evidence – it’s reliability.
      I’d also add something that I’ve posited before; that the Gospels and Acts became akin to “documents of Public Record” for evidential purposes or even section 9 witness statements, that is admissible as evidence without calling witnesses (even though the witnesses are available to examine and question).
      That’s taken me back in time.

  3. There is a lot of confusion over the use of the word “legendary”. To me it suggests something quite definite. It would mean that ten or twenty years after the crucifixion no one would have believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Stories about a resurrection would have emerged later, and there is no reason to think that anyone would have taken them particularly seriously.

    Sceptics could try to argue that that is how things developed but the evidence is clearly against them. So the discrepancies in the Gospels don’t prove that we are dealing with a case of legendary development. The discrepancies don’t prove that there was no organised movement before the Gospels were written or that a belief in the resurrection was not central to it. So what do they prove? Not much, really.

  4. When I was mugged in 1992 the policeman insisted on writing up the report himself even though I was articulate. As any NT student will know, even the tiniest differences in diction are far-reaching. His report included the sentence ‘This knife was made to kill: I can put it no plainer than that.’. I think he had been watching too many detective programmes. The case collapsed on a technicality, i.e. the shape of the knife.

    • Christopher,
      You were also mugged by the police officer.
      You shouldn’t have signed it; it should have been your words sticking to what happened. Were you called to testify? Crown or Magistrates Court?
      The words “shaped to kill” would be construed inadmissible opinion, rather than a question of fact (the shape and manner of use, -intention of attacker- also to to be determined by the court).

      • I don’t know. Having had such respect for the police when young, growing up in Hendon, every single encounter with what they have become now shocks me.

        • Unlike this Polish Catholic Church service in Canada, on Good Friday:
          I don’t think he needed a lawyer, but he may have had an advocate!
          Good disagreement anybody? Needs to be viewed with sound.

          I’m not sure that police in England have been granted emergency powers of entry in relation to Covid 19, otherwise what the Polish man was saying was correct- but offensive anyone? ; without an invitation, permission to enter the premises or a warrant, entry would be unlawful.

          The lawyers would have had a field day, had an attempt been made to physically evict, let alone the Court of Public Opinion.

  5. It has always seemed strange to me that he zombie apocalypse section is only mentioned in Matthew. I would have thought that an event of this magnitude this would have at least been recorded elsewhere. “Saw long dead Uncle Fred walking down the road – stinks a bit but said hello ”

    And what happened to them afterwards?

    • It is not like that. Matthew is recording stories that were told, which conform to certain types – as proven by the fact that so many of the types (fluteplayer and fishes ‘we danced and…’; apparitions, coin in fish’s mouth, dreams) are just what is found in an oral historian like Herodotus.

        • Matthew includes it because he in general includes oral accretions, i.e. the ways in which accounts have expanded in the telling (and very standard and typical oral accretions they are – hence the reference to fairly precise parallels in Herodotus, an oral historian) – something the other evangelists are less inclined to do. He gives us insight to the way the stories were being told around his time of writing. 60 years after the events, most tellers were relating other people’s accounts rather than their own experience.

          Also he doubles single recipients of healing; augments multiple-healing occasions; and likes the spectacular in general.

          He is a master and orderly compiler. See how he neatly slots the Rev 1 material into both the Transfiguration and ch24 – as one example. If his task is in part to make a second edition of Mark incorporating all the extra information and oral accounts and Scripture references known to him, then he is thorough in that task.

          • Thank you for your reply Christopher. Yes but the actual event – I am assuming here, that it was a literal historical event – lots of people long dead – introducing themselves to people in Jerusalem – seems almost on par with Jesus’s own appearance after the resurrection. It’s a pretty stunning occurrence don’t you think?

            FWIW, I would imagine it would have scared the living **** out of the people in Jerusalem who encountered them and there would have been other accounts recorded.

            I understand your point about Matthew’s predilection to fuller accounts but I think it’s really quite incredible that he tosses it in almost as a throwaway comment whereas the other writers make no mention of it at all. This seems an extraordinary omission in the least for such a spectacular event on the part of the other writers. Even the raising of Lazarus is mentioned in more than one gospel. So why not this?

            And what did happen to them – did they ascend to heaven when Jesus did? Did people in Jerusalem see them go?

          • Chris (Bishop),

            I, too, would find it difficult to see this as an oral accretion, in a still largely oral Jewish tradition and transmission.

            Does this account in Matthew not indeed link to the Jewish Feast/Festival of First-Fruits resurrection of believers with Jesus being THE First Fruit of the Resurrection?

            We’d already seen the supernatural raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus.

            Are we still soaked in an embarrassed anti-supernaturalism? Except when it is centred on Jesus. The exceptional does not negate the general.

            And the resurrection of Jesus was through the operation of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. It was a Trinitarian event.

            Not sure that it would have scared those (Pharisees?) looking for and believing in resurrection of the dead.

          • Hi Chris

            It does seem to me that the story is not available to the other evangelists. Two of them precede Matthew (of whom John includes only what suits his overall schema), while Luke in the Passion Narrative is not using/reading Matthew.

            What you say about its being inappropriate for a throwaway remark is true. But if it were given its due (for such a mighty event), it would almost take over the narrative. Given that it is so vague in its content, and so oral in its origin, that would be impossible. Matthew is a scribe and a compiler. He is more than that, but he is at least that. He passes it on as he wants to make his account maximally complete.

            It also raises theological questions: as Tom Wright said – ‘Where did they go next?’.

          • Hi Christopher, are you saying that from a purely historicity pov, Mark, Luke and John are more ‘reliable’?

            Im not sure about that but I know Mike Licona has proffered that Matthew’s resurrection of the saints should not be understood literally, and he compares it to other writings at the time. And Licona is certainly an evangelical who believes in the resurrection of Jesus. I think the college he was working at fired him over this question!

            Im not sure myself. By definition God could have done it and if He did I tend to think of them being maybe around 20 (‘many’ could mean anything) and going home to their families, who may already have been believers in Jesus the Messiah.

            It is certainly a question that atheists often raise in connection with Jesus’ resurrection, arguing if it didnt actually happen despite Matthew’s portrayal (he seems to provide the evidence of eyewitnesses) then how do you know what actually happened and what didnt?


          • I am glad you focus on historicity which is a central and oft-ignored question. Mark is full of first-hand historical material even if he does not always know how to order it in the correct chronology. John supplements Mark excellently since he knows the Jerusalem chronology better. Not that his aim is to write a history of Jesus. Matthew and Luke are short of first-hand material, which does not always matter since Matthew relies so much on Mark who has lots. Luke has more than Matthew, e.g. on the women disciples and on the Emmaus Road.

          • I have meditated often over these verses and they can be a stumbling block to non-believers. The only explanation to me that makes some kind of sense (although not perfect) goes something like this-

            It does seem clear in these verses that there were other supernatural events taking place at the same time as Jesus’s resurrection and when the earthquake was occurring.
            They suggest (but do not prove), that the people who came forth from the tombs and appeared to many, were recognised by those who encountered them. This is significant as it implies they they died recently or were within living memory of these that met them.

            So- could it not be that a ‘mass Lazarus’ event took place here? The resurrection of Jesus power over death overflowing to those who were deemed righteous under the Law to make a point to the Jews about the truth of the resurrection from the dead? After all, the Jews were whom Matthew was aiming at.

            If in that sense these individuals were like Lazarus being raised, then presumably they would have been taken in to their families and lived out their life span until they died naturally.

            The Jews has already seen a sign of Jesus’s power over death in the raising of Lazarus. Now they saw an even bigger one associated with the resurrection of Jesus with many Lazarus type events.

            Is Matthew here, trying do say to the Jews what more did they need in order to be convinced of the resurrection of the dead?

          • I think if that had been the case we would have heard more about it. It only says they ‘appeared’.

  6. You only have to look in the newspapers to see how different reporters give their version of the same story. Some are purely factual, some concentrate more on the personalities involved, some intrude their own thinking, personality and interests. I agree entirely with Andrew Corke. People would be far more suspicious of a cooked-up unanimity of accounts. I can see a tax collector, a doctor, a man in a hurry and a quiet thinker in the accounts of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. Quite different tacks, but all agreed on the fact that Jesus did rose from the dead and what it means, not just for Christians, but for all people.
    Mike Keulemans

  7. The mosaic at the top of this article, and the point about the grave clothes being left as if the body had been supernaturally raised through them – both have caused me to wonder (for the first time in my life) what was Jesus wearing as he appeared to Mary in the garden? Renaissance painters and sculptors influenced by Classical ideas of the perfect body showed Him with just a loin-cloth. Only Michelangelo, if I recall correctly, dared to show him naked. But the body would have had nothing on it except the linen clothes. I remember reading once that even though people would have been crucified naked (and the soldiers ‘divided his raiment’) European images of Christ on the cross had a loincloth to disguise the fact that He was a circumcised Jew. At the Resurrection, was a white shining garment supernaturally produced? The mosaic – as in other mosaics – show everyone in the formal clothes of late Classical Antiquity, though not as colourful and embroidered as I believe was usual for the upper classes in the fifth and sixth centuries (and possibly survives in the vestments of the Orthodox Church?). And how did Jesus and the Apostles dress anyway? – Paul, as a Roman citizen, would presumably have been entitled to wear a toga if he could afford one, at least when in Rome. Modern evangelical videos tend to dress everybody in the rough home-spun garments of Galilean fishermen – which at least is better than the white robes, fair hair and English faces of the Children’s bibles I remember from my youth!

    • Fair question. And I too understand Jesus’ body to have raised through his burial cloths, hence why the disciple saw and believed. Unlike Lazarus whose clothes had to be unwrapped from around him. This showed that Jesus’ resurrection was on a different level than Lazarus.

      Regarding clothing afterwards, I should think if God can raise the dead, He can supply appropriate clothing? After all, Jesus had produced fish and bread effectively out of thin air. But there’s no definitive answer.


  8. I suppose if angels came to help roll the stone away they would have also brought something for him to wear?
    I still think that Jesus needed the weeks following his resurrection to heal properly from the wounds. His beard needed time to grow too. It had been pulled out. I think the angels opened the tomb, unwrapped him and folded the cloths then dressed him. His face was covered to hide his appalling visage. As the healing process continued he went from glory to glory. At first it was possible to put one’s hand in his side but by the time of the ascension he was completely transformed. I know it seems as if he could waft through walls but the account just shows how stunned his disciples were and didn’t notice his coming or going. First thing Sunday morning it was cold and dark. He was still very uncomfortable. He was not a pretty sight and needed to wrap up so as not to terrify the women.
    The whole process is a bit like how we grow as Christians. Not everything is glorious to start with but things improve slowly. I really have a problem with a crucified corpse being turned into a Hollywood body-butiful in ,what, 36 hours? I know it’s possible but it seems to contradict the way God does things.

    • The Syrian army was destroyed in a night. After reading the message that the finger wrote, the emperor died that very night. Joshua destroyed the opposing army before the night did fall. Personally, I don’t see anything in the descriptions of the resurrection – of which Christ’s is the foretaste – that this is to be a painful or gradual occasion.

      • Easy to destroy in a split second. Humanity is adept. Restoring , bu8lding, nurtur8ng, healing take longer. The Lord took 100 yea4s to get an Isaac out of Abreham.

    • I dont quite understand how ‘it seems to contradict the way God does things’.

      By definition it is a miraculous event. Indeed unique.

      If you look at the healing miracles that Jesus did, it appears healing from life-long disease or disability were reversed instantaneously or at least very quickly. There is no evidence that it took hours or days for the person to heal fully. The evidence shows the opposite – men who had been unable to walk for presumably years were able to suddenly get up and run about.

      Similarly, why would it be odd if Jesus’ wounds were healed upon His resurrection? The ‘power’ involved is beyond comprehension. It actually makes sense that they were.


      • Jesus was always up early . Motivated by the Holy Spirit. Early Sunday morning he was again motivated , inspired, revived. Keen to be out of bed as soon as possible. Not magic. Not like mice and pumpkin turned into footmen and a carriage. More like a man on a mission ripping the oxygen line and canula away in a hurry to get back to work.

    • Angels who appeared in the Hebrew Scriptures
      (Eg to Abraham prior to entering Sodom) were dressed in “normal” clothing. I doubt they bought them at the local store. But I think it’s to be expected that a raised Jesus would have normal clothes, and I don’t think his body would require “healing” after its resurrection, unless Lazarus required similar after his.

  9. I think that this Synoptic problem really is solved by John’s account. It isn’t the full account, but it does answer the tricky questions. Jesus or angels? Both. Jerusalem or Galiellie? Both. And when did Mary Magdalene go to the disciples? Twice.

  10. Going back to the question posed in this article’s title, John Wenham published a book, ‘Easter Enigma (Do the Resurrection stories contradict one another?’), in 1984. On the original back cover it carried these comments from Michael Green: “I read this brilliant book with growing excitement! Virtually the whole New Testament establishment believe that there is no possibility of harmonizing the five accounts of the resurrrection appearances. John Wenham takes them on with charm, common sense and erudition. He shows not only that it is possible to make a coherent order of events without any distortion of the text, but that granted a few very reasonable assumptions, such a reconstruction is entirely plausible.” The book, as I remember, was rather negatively reviewed in the Evangelical ANVIL journal. Well, at least John Wenham had a go at it, and Michael Green (whose ‘Empty Cross of Jesus’ is referred to in this article) seems to have thought it a worthwhile attempt. Certainly, some of Wenham’s “reasonable assumptions” will be more convincing than others, but his remarks explaining his approach in Appendix 1 of the book (on ‘Gospel Criticism’) are not without value.

    • It’s a long time since I read Wenham’s book but I certainly thought most of what he suggested was perfectly reasonable. Many scholars today continue to argue that there is a ‘contradiction’ between the Synoptics and John as to the timing of the last supper and Jesus’ crucifixion for example, despite the valid work done by the likes of Colin Humphreys which shows no such contradiction. Sadly some just ‘wont be told’.


  11. Again I’m stirred to comment on these extraordinary events surrounding His resurrection. Jesus taught a 7 mile long Bible study with the two on the road to Emmaus and they did no recognize Him. Only when He blessed the supper and in the breaking of the bread did they suddenly recognize Him. Why then? I surmise that they saw the nail prints in His wrists. Oh its You!
    Then again why did everyone have a hard time recognizing Him? Everyone close to Him did not recognize Him afterwards.
    There are prophecies that speak of His visage marred more than any man. Another speaks of His beard ripped out. Imagine that alone. Jesus was tortured horribly.
    Could it be that Jesus still bears the scars of His sufferings?
    A clue to that is a verse in Revelations that speaks of a Lamb as if it was slain.
    I remember Charles Wesley words ‘five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary…forgive him O forgive they cry, don’t let that ransomed sinner die”.
    I think there may be more than five scar wounds that He still bears.

    “No one recognized Him because He still bears the scars of His suffering for us” is a thought that has gripped my heart recently. Oh that I may know Him.

    • If you are correct that Jesus’ glorified, heavenly body retained the scars of his earthly life and death—and Paul was correct that believers will be raised in the same manner as Christ—what does that say for Christian soldiers blown to bits in battle or those Christians whose bodies have been severely mangled in auto accidents? Will they too spend eternity with scarred and disfigured “heavenly” bodies? Sounds awful. The streets of heaven will be a horror show.

      I will bet that there is another reason why the earliest accounts of Jesus sightings involve his followers not recognizing him. The original “sightings” of Jesus involved illusions (shadows, bright lights, or other natural phenomena which the followers of Jesus mistook as their back-from-the-dead leader). In other words, the original Jesus sightings involved ghost sightings. Only in later Gospels did the authors attempt to “flesh out” these ghosts, giving Jesus the ability to be touched and to eat broiled fish. These stories are clearly works of apologetics which evolved over time. These are NOT historically reliable accounts.

  12. It is really ridiculous when atheists discount the historicity of the Bible simply because of some minor discrepancies. such as, the number of angels at Jesus’ tomb or the manner in which Judas Iscariot died (hanging or an exploding belly). Only if the core historical claims of the Bible are inaccurate should Christians question their faith. For instance, imagine if the detailed Resurrection Appearance stories (found in the last three gospels) are all theological fiction, added for literary andor evangelism purposes? Imagine if the actual appearance claims were all based on people seeing bright lights? Or, imagine if The Exodus Story is 100% fiction. What would that say about Jesus’ status as the omniscient Creator since he seemed to have believed in the historicity of this event?

  13. This is all very interesting. I do find the apparent implication in Matthew that the disciples didn’t meet Jesus until they’d travelled quite a long way to Galilee, and that He ascended from Galilee hard to put together with the accounts in John/Luke/Acts that there were numerous meetings with Him in Jerusalem, and He ascended just outside that city. It did occur to me the other day that maybe Jesus intended to lead them to Galilee, and then changed His mind…


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