Are there contradictions in the resurrection accounts?

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.

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36 thoughts on “Are there contradictions in the resurrection accounts?”

  1. Details can be harmonised without doubt, because as in life the main reason for seeming differences will be that each gives only a small percentage of the full picture. Therefore sometimes we can say with John Wenham ‘If there were 2 [angels] there was 1’ and the like. Although in most passages the 4 gospels are mutually dependent, making the ‘four independent reporters’ model quite wrong, this is not the case when it comes to the resurrection, since all will have been aware of traditions circulating (and on no matter would more traditions have circulated, which will have had to be sifted – not an easy exercise, and Matt in particular is a maximalist here). An exercise I undertook at All Nations 1993 was to test the accounts for editorial congeniality (concentrating on the Great Commission), and there is definitely a notable amount of that – this however could be just a truism (any writer will select what they like), or alternatively could reflect a lack of first-hand material available to the writers. And John (who is to a degree writing a different sort of book) is going to be a different question again.

    What is centre stage in my view is that there are all sorts of priceless narratives that existed (1 Cor 15) but did not get written in the gospels, which only goes to show the truth of the picture hinted at by the Fathers that Mark (no writer he, but it was Hobson’s Choice) had swiftly to get down on paper Peter’s preaching before no-one survived who was capable of doing similar. The highly regrettable deficiency of Mark’s Gospel on the resurrection (which may even have been due to death or disaster or torn MS) did indeed mean that successors were not always able to give a very first-hand picture – but there is a match-up between John[/Luke] and the 1Cor15 appearance to the 12, and conceivably between Matt’s Great Commission and the 500? We add to this that the Emmaus Road story could be regarded as a classic piece of oral tradition going back to early witnesses, of which Luke had access to some – the idea that it is a validation narrative for the primacy of Simon bar Clopas (or even dependent on the Testimonium Flavianum) is probably a little too unlikely.

    • But isn’t it a problem that most modern Bible scholars doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels? If scholars are correct, the discrepancies in the Gospels may be more than just different points of view. They may be legends or theological embellishments (fiction).

      • Few, if any Christians claim that all the Gospels were authored by eyewitnesses. John yes and possibly Matthew, but not Luke or Mark. The question is were the Gospels primarily based on eyewitness testimony, and I would say yes. Richard Bauckham gives a relatively strong case for that position in his ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ 2nd ed revised – Id recommend it. I dont agree with everything he says, but I think he is correct regarding, for example, Mark’s Gospel being primarily based on Peter’s testimony & teaching, and John on either the apostle John or John the Elder as referenced by Papias. He favours the latter, who he deems to have also been a disciple of Jesus. Bauckham is more a historian than a theologian and he brings that expertise to the subject. He has also, for example, dealt with alleged ‘bad’ geography in Mark’s Gospel by showing it is written from the pov of a fisherman who lived and worked around Galilee, ie Peter.

        As for ‘most modern Bible scholars’ the problem is there are two camps – conservative and liberal, and everyone in between, and Im not sure one can say ‘most Bible scholars’ on any issue.

        • Hi PCI,

          I have read Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. It is a very interesting book. However, I found it short on evidence and long on conjecture. For instance, he believes that any pericope in the Gospels in which the central character is mentioned by name, is a literary signal indicating that this individual is the source of the story and that he or she has maintained the accuracy of that particular story and passed it on intact to one of the evangelists. Evidence provided? None.

          As probably one of, if not, the preeminent conservative evangelical scholar of out time, I was very surprised by Bauckham’s positions on these issues:

          –Bauckham does not believe that the Apostle Matthew authored the Greek Gospel of Matthew which is in our Bibles today. He believes that the Apostle Matthew may have written a Hebrew Gospel, but our current Gospel of Matthew is not a Greek translation of this Hebrew text, rather, the Gospel of Matthew in our Bibles today is a compilation of the redactions of multiple unknown authors who supplemented Matthew’s Hebrew text with their own material. My question is: How can we know what is Matthew’s material and what is that of the unknown redactors?

          –Bauckham does not believe that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John. He believes that the author of the Gospel of John was a man also named John, related to the chief priest in Jerusalem, who was a follower of Jesus, but not one of the Twelve, who would later come to be identified as “John the Elder” of Ephesus.

          New Testament scholar NT Wright is on record as saying: “I do not know who wrote the Gospels nor does anyone else.”

          So if evangelical and conservative Protestant scholars can’t even agree on the identity of the two alleged eyewitness authors of two of the Gospels, how strong is the evidence for the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of ANY of the Gospels??

          To your last point, that there are two camps in modern Biblical scholarship—liberal and conservative—you seem to be suggesting that regarding the issue of the authorship of the Gospels, liberals have one position, based on their liberal worldview, and conservatives have theirs, based on their conservative worldview. But there is a problem with that analogy when it comes to the authorship of the Gospels: Most Roman Catholic scholars reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Can anyone credibly claim that Roman Catholic scholars have a bias against the supernatural; against miracles; or against the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Why would so many NT scholars who very much believe in the miracles of Jesus and in his literal, bodily resurrection reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels unless that is what the evidence strongly indicates?

          • From the Catholic website, “About Catholics”: They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different. The titles of the gospels were added in the second century and very well could designate the authority behind the finished gospel or the one who wrote one of the main sources of the gospel. The [Roman Catholic] Church takes no official stance on their authorship. It is important to understand that the Church by its authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit canonized these four gospels over many others that were circulated and read in the early centuries.

          • Gary, I haven’t read the entirety of Bauckham’s book, but this is such an absurd comment that I wonder how much of it *you’ve read*.

            Regardless of if you think the evidence Richard Bauckham gives is good or bad evidence, he still *gives it* so his claims are not empty conjecture. (Which in of itself is a problematic complaint. History is built on conjecture about what is likely to have happened in the past ) For example, the book gives naming data from 1st century Israel and shows how the Gospels remarkably conform to this data. Which implies that the Evangelists were reliably passing down information and had access to sources living in 1st century Judea.

      • Where there is a discrepancy, the first writer may be quite correct, and the second (less close to the facts) incorrect. Or else, the second may have better information and be correcting the first. These are 2 scenarii where discrepancy does not equate to lack of accurate information.

        By far the majority of discrepancies occur where the second writer already knew what the first said. So how then can they just reflect ignorance about what happened, rather than one of the scenarii in para 1?

        Yes, there is good evidence that the first 2 gospels (Mark and John) are respectively partly based on an apostle’s preaching and written by a direct disciple. The later 2 are neither of these things, but the latest (likely to be Luke) implies he belongs to the same generation as the others, as indeed he must if he is the best friend of Paul who was coeval with Jesus.

        If you say ‘there are 2 camps (of scholars), conservative and liberal’, then that if true would be shocking. (It is not true by the way.) There are literally millions of issues. Are you saying that the one camp claims integrity while holding a conservative view on all these millions of things while the other camp claims integrity while holding a liberal view on all these millions of things? Integrity? I think someone would smell a rat. On the contrary, scholars more than anyone else are trained in independent thought and plenty of them are lovers of truth (almost by definition). To be a lover of truth is to be no friend of ideology.

        If Tom Wright said that, then it was a simplification of course, and he would have been happy to go into the evidence. We would like our evidence to be stronger than it is. Hengel looks at the logic of believing the gospels were (or were not) ever anonymous.

        The testimony of Papias does not square well at all with the idea that the gospels were originally anonymous. Yet that is the first testimony about gospel writing that exists.

        In general, you (PC1 and Gary) both are saying plenty about what people think, but any provisional conclusion is only a distillation of the arguments and factors it is based on, so we should ideally be concentrating on the arguments and factors.

        • Hi Christopher,

          I agree with you on your first statement. Most of the discrepancies in the Gospels are easily harmonizable. But primarily for this reason: The Gospels authors were not writing modern history textbooks. They were writing Greco-Roman biographies, a style of literature that allowed for embellishments in the details as long as the core fact about the main character remained intact. So the fact that one Gospel author has a young man at the tomb, one has one angel at the tomb, and the other two have two angels at the tomb, would have been inconsequential to a first century reader. Such embellishments made for good reading!

          However, on your second point I must disagree. You personally may believe that the evidence is “good” that disciples and disciples of disciples wrote the Gospels and that Luke was a companion of Paul, but this is not the consensus position of scholars. Most scholars, including most Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, believe that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses nor the associate of eyewitnesses, but people one or more generations removed from the eyewitnesses. Even most conservative evangelical scholars recognize this consensus, even if they do not agree with it. Here is a statement by probably the preeminent conservative evangelical scholars of our time, Richard Bauckham:

          “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p. 240

  2. Evidence: eye witness accounts.

    Inconsistencies and incompleteness do not, of themselves, amount to self defeating contradictions.

    In England, in the past I’ve acted as a defence advocate in Court and on other occasions as prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service. In cases involving a number of police officer eye witnesses they frequently made notes of the incident together afterwards, stimulating each other’s memories and consequently were almost identical in the witness testimony they gave, on oath. It would all add to the weight of evidence of a common view.

    Defence lawyers would seek to make much of inconsistencies in different officer’s testimonies, in order to undermine the reliability of evidence and cast doubt. Yet, the differences frequently could be explained as adding veracity to the accounts. No one officer saw exactly the same thing as another, no one officer placed the same weight or emphasis as another, so together, there was a more complete, composite picture.

    It wasn’t as if this “community” of police officers based their notes on something that didn’t happen.

    I have little difficult in reconciling different transmission of events, such as Paul in 1 Corinthians (which is incomplete in detail and has a different emphasis) and the Gospel accounts.

    Similarly, someone may give different testimonies of conversion on different occasions,(occasion A and occasion B) which may garner a comment that because on occasion B it was stated that x happened when it wasn’t included on occasion A, x is a later addition, invention, didn’t happen at all, and contradicts testimony A, when in reality testimony A was incomplete and had a different emphasis for different listeners. And there can be various other computations to this, which do not amount to contradictions, that can bear the weight of the evidential burden of disproof, or that collapses veracity.

    • That’s a really helpful perspective, Geoff.

      There are two interesting and compelling reconstructions of the four Gospel accounts into one coherent narrative that fits in both time and space, and they were apparently written independently at about the same time: John Wenham’s Easter Enigma and chapter 6 of Roger Forster and Paul Marston’s Reason and Faith. Well worth the read.

  3. And the zombie apocalypse…? Surely one of the most intriguing stories in the NT. Much like the fish with a coin in its mouth – also Matthew.

    To me one of the most notable omissions from the synoptics is the raising of Lazarus, which John presents as the key event preceding Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem and the proximate source of his immense popularity (and infamy) on that occasion and of the crowd that hailed his entry (eg John 12:17.)

    • Yes, but that omissions is compounded by Luke’s inclusion of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain in Luke 7, but without doing any of the theological work that John’s account does of Lazarus…

  4. This is helpful. Surely, as Dorothy L Sayers points out, most of the discrepancies can easily fit together. The only major difficulties surely are a) Matthew’s (temporary?) resurrection of other people, and the inclusion in Matthew and John’s PS of a surely unnecessary detour by everyone to Galilee that must have taken some time, and which doesn’t fit with the beginning of Acts.

    • But notice a. Luke’s concern to focus on Jerusalem b. the agreement of John with Matthew on the ‘Galilean detour’ and c. that there are plenty of spaces in the timeline for such a journey. For example, even in John’s account a week goes by without any explanation.

  5. Might I suggest an addition to your ‘core facts’ at the end? This is how Jesus was not recognised (Luke 24.16 and John 20.14). It provides evidence for the unexpected nature of the resurrection.

  6. “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!” – well that made me laugh; I recall hours of re-reading book material I had written to the point of almost hating to read it through yet again!
    With regard to the Matthew account of saints being seen in Jerusalem after the resurrection, could this have been visions such as Samuel being seen by Saul or Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration and the account of graves being opened during the earthquake being presumed? I was struck listening to Tom Wright recently describe such an event in his lifetime when someone he knew well experienced the appearance of his fiancée when she was several hundred miles away at the time. This appearance impelled him to phone and ask if all was well, whereupon he tragically discovered that she had been murdered. Tom seemed to relate post-mortem appearances as nothing new in the long history of human existence.

    • Perhaps but Wright’s friend’s experience doesnt seem to be on the same level as that recorded in Matthew, who explicitly states that their tombs were opened following the earthquake, and their ‘bodies’ raised. He connects the event with Jesus’ own resurrection, which was clearly literally physical.

      • Oddly though he implies they were raised before Christ, which seems theologically problematic. Did they have resurrection bodies? Did they ascend to heaven or subsequently die again like Lazarus (we presume)?

        • The timing is odd. ESV has:

          “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

          Matthew associates the opening of the tombs with the earthquake and the rending of the temple curtain. But the coming out of the tombs and the appearing is placed after Jesus’ raising (egersis rather than anastatis). “Appeared” is an interesting word, which seems to mean something more like “presented themselves”. It is not the same word which Paul uses in 1 Cor 15.5-6 for Jesus’ appearances.

          And who were these ‘saints’? Also, it seems that the practice at the time was to let the body decay, and then place the bones in a bone box with the name on it. This is the source of the interesting name statistics. So, only the fairly recently desceased would have bodies in tombs…

          I’m, like, weird, man!

          • Generally things fall into place better when we ask where Matt got his postMark information from, and give the answer – which is an unsurprising one – ‘From what people were saying’. Coin in fish’s mouth, ghosts/apparitions, dreams, heightened powers for heroes, fluteplayer-and-fishes story (Matt 11) – these are exactly the sorts of things that ‘people say’ – as can be seen from Herodotus, whose modus operandi was exactly that – to ask people (historiai) – and in whom every one of these motifs appear. And not only in him – they are (excepting fluteplayer and fishes) in general the most common motifs of all.

          • PC1…. Where does “He descended into hell” fit in the timescale of dead to resurrected?

        • I was asked to explain this in 1969 at my (first) selection conference.

          On the timing… Jesus physical resurrection isn’t co-terminus with his conquest of death is it? Or was his resurrection announced /discovered on the third day? I don’t like the latter thesis but I’m not entirely sure why. Is it essential that he “stayed” dead until day three?

          • Only the tombs of some of the saints were broken open on the Friday following His crucifixion. The text doesnt actually say they were raised then, indeed it seems to explicitly say they were raised after Jesus’ own resurrection. I suspect the tombs broke open in anticipation of the resurrection on Sunday, thus linking the effect of the cross and His resurrection.

            As for it being ‘essential’ that he was dead until the 3rd day, I suppose not, but the text says that is what happened. Apart from anything, being dead from Fri to Sun would give strong evidence that He was indeed dead, thus negating that old ‘swoon’ theory.

          • Even conservative evangelical scholar Mike Licona believes that the Dead Saints Shaken from their Tombs Story is a theological embellishment. i.e., The author did not intend his readers to believe he was recounting an historical event.

  7. Matthew 27:51-54
    Following David Wilson pointing out the prior resurrection of Jesus, perhaps some scholarly cognisance may be taken, or stimulated, (it already may have been as far as I know) of biblical theology, of all echoes, allusions, symbols, themes, types,shadows of the substance, all scripture in the Old Testament , all fulfilled and culminate in Christ Jesus, the Messiah.
    It may place into some context the “…many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised and coming out of the tombs AFTER his resurrection they went into the city and appeared to many.” Matt 27 :52, 53

    The following is from writings Messianic Jews, believers in Christ as they consider the “Fall Feasts of Israel” (Dr Mitch and Zhava Glaser) and “The Seven Festivals of the Messiah” Edward Chumney). There seems to be some overlap in the significance of the themes the festivals.
    1 The feast of trumpets, shofar (Rosh Hashanah, meaning the “Head of the Year,” “Day of Awakening Blast/Shout”) with a primary role of spiritual significance of preceding the Day of Atonement, at the time of Christ. It served as the conclusion and beginning of the ancient calendar, an old/new age.
    1.1 Awake, is a term or idiom for Rosh Hashanah.
    1.2 Awakening/shout/shofar is associated with the coming, advent of the Messiah,(Isaiah 51:9, Zechariah 9:9, 14. 16) 31:7. Also see Isaiah 42:11, 44:23; Jeremiah 31:7; Zephaniah 3:14
    1.3 Shofar ushers in the day of the lord (Joel 2:1)
    1.4 Awakening speaks of resurrection (Isaiah 26;19) “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. you who lie in the dust awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.”
    1.5 Isaiah chapter 12 puts shouting in the context of the reign of the Messiah,
    1.6 Usually linked with an end times theme, Matthew show familiarity with the feast in 2:29-31 with a darkening of the sky, judgement, blowing of the shofar, and an ingathering of the elect.
    1.7 Again usually linked with the end times 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 The dead in Christ will be resurrected first before the living. They are in effect the firstfruits of the ingathering.
    1.8 “It was already common Jewish teaching that the shofar would announce the resurrection of the dead.” (Glaser)
    1.9 Resurrection of the dead will be at the “last Trump” 1 Corinthians 15;52
    1.10 The blowing of the seventh Trumpet in Revelation 11:15-18 ” The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he will reign forever and ever. 11:15
    1.11 The resurrection of the dead in Matthew, following the resurrect of Christ could be seen as the firstfruits of the ingathering, a taster of the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom of God, the new age, of, as it were, D Day (victory -over-death-day) with VE day yet to come.
    1.12 The biblical theme of awakening of sleepers is prominent here.
    1.13 Shofar and the Feast is a celebration of the birth of creation. Here it is the Messianic new birth, new creation.

    2 Feast of Passover, unleavened bread. (7 days feast to the Lord)
    During passover there is an extra Sabbath, a High Sabbath (identified in John 19.1)
    The shofar was blown in the Temple on Sabbath days.

    3 Feast of First fruits. The day following the Sabbath during Passover, (the High Sabbath) is called the Feast of First fruits, or first born.
    3.1 A theme of this festival is Resurrection and Salvation.
    3. Jesus is :
    first begotten of the Father.Hebrews 1:6
    firstborn of every creature Colossians 1:15
    first begotten from the dead Revelation 1:5
    firstborn of many brethren Romans 8:29the first fruit of the resurrected ones .1 Corinthians 15:20, 23
    20 “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” ESV
    A stunning surprise and reprise is the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and of the dead, a foretaste, a foreshadowing of destiny of those who belong to him, all complete fulfilled in him.

  8. You are correct that many naive skeptics jump on the discrepancies in the four Gospels as proof that the entire Jesus Story is legendary. They are making a big mistake. One does not blindly walk into a library, randomly pull a book from a shelf, take off the blind fold, and then assume that what one is reading is historical fact. You may be in the Fiction section of the library! One must always know the genre of book that one is reading.

    The Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. This style of ancient literature is very different from modern biographies. In a modern biography, embellishing the story is taboo. In a Greco-Roman biography embellishments were standard practice. The reading audience expected it! The only rule was that the core facts in the story not be changed.

    So what were the core facts of the Jesus Story? Gary Habermas has compiled a list of facts with which most NT scholars, liberal and conservative, would agree. (It is much more limited than the list given in your article which seems to be someone else’s expansion of Habermas’ “Minimal Facts”. Here are the key facts:

    –Jesus was crucified by the Romans.
    –He was buried in a rock tomb (the most disputed “fact” in the list)
    –At some point after his burial, some of his followers believed that he had appeared to them in some fashion.

    This is essentially the order of “facts” listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15! Isn’t it possible that the Evangelists, who most scholars believe were not eyewitnesses or even the associates of eyewitnesses, based their individual Jesus Stories on these core facts, but added embellished details of what they imagined those “appearances” might have been like? Matthew’s appearance stories have ZERO in common with Luke’s appearance stories. Most scholars doubt that the author of Matthew and the author of Luke knew of each other’s gospels. This would explain their very different appearance stories, Luke’s in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and Matthew’s only in Galilee. The Gospel of John was written a couple of decades later. If the appearance stories in Matthew and Luke had been circulating for several decades and the author of John heard these stories preached in his local congregation, this would explain why he has appearance stories in Galilee and Jerusalem.

    The Gospel authors were not inventing details to deceive anyone. They were writing books! And they wanted their books to be good. They wanted their books to be tools of evangelism, to spread the Gospel. Embellished appearance stories were much more interesting reading than the Early Creed.

    If the detailed appearance stories in Matthew, Luke, and John are embellishments (fiction), this would not affect the core facts of the story one bit. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus appeared, in some fashion, to his disciples.

  9. Gary: Nine out of ten times that I ask a conservative Christian apologist for evidence for the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, they will point to the scholarship of conservative evangelical New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham, in particular his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, published in 2006. Dr. Bauckham believes that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life and death of Jesus primarily because:

    “Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named. I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions. In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them.” –Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” p. 39

    “It is the contention of this book that, in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teachings of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told. These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them. They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell.” –Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p. 93

    Gary: What is the evidence given for this claim? Answer: Assumptions and conjecture, nothing more! But let’s take a look at a truly shocking statement that Bauckham makes later on in the book which directly undermines his claim that these named characters in the Gospel stories “remained throughout their lifetimes the authoritative guarantors of these stories”. First, let’s see Bauckham’s position on the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew:

    “…the identification of Matthew with Levi the son of Alphaeus—a traditional case of harmonizing the Gospels in view of the parallel passages Matt. 9:9 (about Matthew) and Mark 2:14 (about Levi) must, on the same grounds of the onomastic evidence available, be judged implausible. Mark tells the story of the call of Levi the son of Alphaeus to be a disciple of Jesus in 2:14 (followed by Luke 5:27 where the man is called simply Levi) and lists Matthew, with no further qualification, in his list of the Twelve. It is clear that Mark did not himself consider these two the same person. In view of the other details Mark does include in his list of the Twelve, he would surely have pointed out Matthew’s identity with Levi there had he known it.” –Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.108

    Gary: Bauckham does not believe that the Apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew. Bauckham believes that a non-eyewitness was the author of the Gospel of Matthew and that this non-eyewitness author invented a fictional story about the calling of Matthew!!!

    The most plausible explanation of the occurrence of the name Matthew in [Matthew] 9:9 is that the author of this Gospel, knowing that Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the Gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story of Levi to Matthew. The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple. There is one feature of Matthew’s text that helps to make this explanation probable. In Mark, the story of Levi’s call is followed by a scene in which Jesus dines with tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-17). Mark sets this scene in “his house”, which some scholars take to mean Jesus’ house, but could certainly appropriately refer to Levi’s house. In Matthew’s Gospel, the same passage follows the narrative of the call of Matthew, but the scene is set simply in “the house” (Matthew 9:10). Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house. He has appropriated for Matthew only as much of Mark’s story of Levi as he needed.” (bolding, Gary’s) Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.111

    Gary: Wow! The author of Matthew has inserted a fictional story into the inerrant Word of God! How could that possibly have happened if Bauckham is correct that the named characters in these stories safe-guarded the integrity of these stories until they passed them on to the Evangelists? The fact that even evangelical Christian scholars believe that fictional tales exist in the Gospels (evangelical scholar Michael Licona believes that Matthew’s “Dead Saints Shaken out of the Tombs story” is also fiction) indicates that either the “guardians of truth” were not very reliable…or…Bauckham’s theory is nonsense!

    Just how historically reliable can the Gospels be if even evangelical scholars admit that they contain invented, fictional material???

  10. I am shocked! Evangelical scholar Michael Licona just denied the presence and testimony of the Holy Spirit in his heart in a discussion on Bart Ehrman’s blog today:

    Dear Dr. Licona: Is it true that since you were ten years old (the age of your conversion to Christianity), you have believed that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century man (Jesus of Nazareth) lives inside your body and communicates with you in some fashion, “testifying” to you that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact?

    Michael Licona: No.

    Yet on his Facebook page, Licona says that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is “essential” for someone to believe in Jesus as his resurrected Savior! Why the discrepancy???

    But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
    —Gospel of Matthew 10:33

    • I am sorry, but you have misread him. He is saying that the facts, not any special religious experience, tell him that the resurrection is historical. And the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is *not* that he is the ghost of a dead person.

      Jesus is very much alive!

    • I see you don’t mention the fact that you got “hammered” on this one — by yours truly… 🙂

      I pointed out that if I had been asked the same question, I would have given the same “No” answer. Why? Because believing that the spirit of an “executed man” lives inside *anybody* is NOT a Christian belief. Christians believe that the spirit of a *resurrected* man – which is the spirit of God Himself – lives in them.

      Funny thing – Licona actually posted my response on his blog…

      Gary, EVERYBODY who saw that conversation, saw you made a fool of yourself. And, just continuing to post your question, Liconas response, and your own commentary doesn’t hide the fact that everybody can see what a fool you made of yourself in that conversation.

  11. What about the fact that Mark, the first gospel written (AD 66-70), actually ends at verse 16:8. It ends with the woman seeing a man in white saying he is risen, but never mentions anyone seeing him physically risen. The later versus 9-20 were added after other gospels in the hope to reconcile the evolving theology. Look in your reference Bibles and they actually state that these manuscripts were added later. Practically all biblical scholars acknowledge this. Pretty profound that the first gospel had no mention of a bodily resurrection.


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