Do the accounts of the resurrection contradict each other?

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. To the right is a modern illustration of this!) 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 in 2021.)

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70 thoughts on “Do the accounts of the resurrection contradict each other?”

  1. Where was Jesus during those 40 days when he was not appearing to his disciples? Could it be that Jesus was able to move between heaven and earth and that “Ascension Day” is the point at which his appearances ended? His resurrecion body was clearlt unlike his pre-crucifixion body in a number of ways. Often people who knew him well did not recognise his. The appearance at the Sea of Galilee has the curious “None of the disciples dared to ask “Who are you?” They know it was the Lord.” Why might they question when they knew?

  2. The so called zombie apocalypse mentioned in Matthew intrigues me and this question wasn’t taken up in the post.
    I’d be interested to see any comments on this as to whether there may be any historical basis for it or if it’s purely theological and spiritual in nature

    • If the Garden tomb was the epicentre of extravagant resurrection power then the dead who were raised were like those who benefit from a jail break. Stunned, they walked out through the broken walls of the Strong Man’s Castle..

    • Whatever the answer, W Camping, the alternatives you have stated are not the main ones. What would be the ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ point made by this account? Is it clear that there is just one such point possible, and is it clear that it would be agreed on, and is it clear how that would be determined, and why if such things are not clear should any writer bother at all? Least of all without distinguishing which bits are ‘theological’/’spiritual’ and which bits are not. Nevertheless, the alternatives you cite are generally seen as the main alternatives. I do not know why.

      Researchers reproduce what they have been told. Herodotus did, and it customarily included a lot of supernatural things, dreams, folktales (what people and their descendants pass on). Matthew does the same.

        • Low grade-band for precis and reproduction of another’s thoughts.

          TV programming includes Where The Wild Things Are. AJ Bell gets up and proclaims ‘The whole of TV is Where The Wild Things Are!!’?

          Herodotus is a marvellous example of what you will get if you base what you write on asking people, on inquiry a couple of generations down the line. What they retain is the memorable (colourful stories) – the anecdotal – and also the stock story.

          Thus Herodotus and the distinct minority of Matthew’s narrative that is new to Matthew share: ghosts, dreams, heightened drama (Pilate washing hands and crowd self condemning), heightened spectacle, fish that swallows coin, the fluteplayer and the dancing fishes story. These last 2 are the sort of thing that crop up everywhere in oral tradition. This brings us to Aesop, whose links to Matthew’s new material are well collected by Wojciekowski. So the topic here is not Matt’s narrative at all, but its filling out with oral material at the appropriate junctures. Matt was the most assiduous of the evangelists in integrating his scraps of source material.

          • But by far the main thing Matthew is ‘a collection of’ is, clearly, the preexisting Gospel of Mark.

  3. I think you are too harsh on “liberal”/”revisionist” Christians. It’s not that they think the Bible isn’t highly important. It’s more that they recognize its a collection of writings from different perspectives, each in a particular time and place and culture, which sometimes contradict each other.

    And as you’ve exposed there are a lot of contradictions in the description of the resurrection. These demonstrate that scripture cannot be used as an exact transcript of events

    • What do you mean by ‘Scripture’? Are you saying that everything that applies to one book written 1000BC-100AD in a culture applies to all the other venerated books in that culture? You must know that does not follow.
      Suppose you found a real contradiction in the book of Hezekiah. Does that mean that lots of other unrelated books written 100s of years earlier or later must also be susceptible to contradiction?

      • Christopher

        By scripture I mean the Bible.

        I personally believe each book was written in its own time,place and culture and that the Bible contains factual inaccuracies and contradictions in both the OT and the NT

        Some Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant.

        • You can’t just say perfectly obvious things to people who have studied. They know them already, and you knew they do.
          None of that was my point. My point was that if you accept that Scripture is one thing, then you are siding with the fundamentalists (as you view them). Your presuppositions ought not to make you see it as one thing. So why do you?

          • Christopher

            Again I don’t understand your question.

            If you must respond to every one of my comments could you at least write your responses in clear English?

          • Hi Peter

            When I am speaking with someone who has studied more in the given area (i.e., an astrophysicist) I naturally *expect not to understand very well.
            Not only that, but (secondly) the *reason why I do not understand is a clear reason.

          • It’s actually a simple question, however. To repeat: What you call Scripture is not at all a single unified entity in the following ways: different human authors, widely different dates, many different literary genres.
            You are (for some reason) treating it as a single unified entity without further comment.
            Of course, we know that the fundamentalists (as you might term them) already do that. But since you disown them, I wanted to know why in this instance you were putting yourself among their company.

    • Thanks–but an odd comment.

      What ‘they recognise’ or rather believe is that scripture does not offer a reliable testimony. Orthodox Christians believe it does.

      And my whole argument here is that the differences are not, in fact, contradictions. Have you missed the whole point of the article…?!

      • I wonder if theological colleges and ordination courses in England today deal with that kind of question in their courses. Although I went to Trinity, it was only after I left college that I delved into the hermeneutical issues about the nature of Scripture and began to formulate an approach to broad interpretive questions. Mid-century liberalism, under the sway of Bultmann, simply assumed that differences meant errors or irreconcilable theologies. Yet it was interesting recently to delve into the Anglo-Catholic Bicknell’s ‘On the Thirty Nine Articles’ to see his approach to Scripture was basically the same as evangelicals’ approach.

      • “What ‘they recognise’ or rather believe is that scripture does not offer a reliable testimony. Orthodox Christians believe it does.”

        What absolute nonsense. That’s a complete caricature.
        Scripture offers a reliable testimony of a limited and partial picture. Orthodox Christians believe that as well. Unless Orthodox Christians believe in talking snakes and a 7 day creation.

          • Bizarre that you would think you can use one term to describe vastly different kinds of literature written over a span of thousands of years. That, dear Ian, is the epitome of wooden literalism.
            I think it was John Bell who said that the major mistake of evangelical biblical study was to make Paul God and turn Jesus into a minor prophet. Letters can’t be categorised as ‘reliable’ or ‘unreliable’. They are simply expressions of a flawed human being at one point in time. They are precious to us because they provide a unique insight into the earliest churches and the issues they were grappling with. But let’s not make them infallible, please. There is no evidence that Paul thought of them in that way and would probably be horrified that any of us are still around discussing them.

          • ‘That, dear Ian, is the epitome of wooden literalism.’

            Andrew, I have said it before and I will say it again: if you have just come here to patronise and insult me, I am not interested.

            If you are committed to listening and engaging, you are always welcome.

            Just take a short break and have a think.

          • It is not insulting (an emotional matter) but critiquing (a rational matter). However, it is telling that not only do we have some rational and others merely emotional, but those who are merely emotional cannot conceive that others are not as they.
            Whatever I say against liberalism is against a stance or principality. I do not think it is coherent; I think it is culture bound and follows the transient culture; and I think it is (technical term) parasitic, because it is better at tearing down others’ work than at discovery and making headway. Fourthly, its definition is hard to pin down. Fifthly, its proponents think that simply by giving a movement a name they have thereby given it respectability. Sixthly, it is the name of an ideology anyway, and no ideology is welcome at the scholarly table.

          • Andrew is defining ‘bias’ as having anything that one can cite cause for disagreeing with. Consequently to say the sun has risen is biased against those who maintain it has not. To say it is 2024 is biased because some would much rather that it was the 1930s.
            To have an opinion is bias – but worse than that, to say anything that all the evidence points to is also bias.

          • Let’s go through the errors here one by one.

            (1) Thinking I have bias is something I did not say. I said many things, but not that. Yet you begin with it.

            (2) That it is impossible to eradicate it *completely is entirely my point. My point being that there is almost all the difference in the world between 99% bias and 1% bias. Whereas many talk completely wrongly as though it were an all or nothing matter (as though 0% and 100% were the only possibilities). You are still talking this way. Just imagine what a huge gulf exists between 1% and 99%.

            (3) Any good academic will be aware of these biases and compensate/handicap for them, you say. This is the very point I have made upwards of 10 times in your ‘hearing’. Usually I am the only one making it. For all I know, it may have been from me that you first heard it.

            (4) I don’t know who CD is (a journalist?) but as we do not share an age range we do not share any direct experience. It is all irrelevant anyway since the establishment you have in mind was one where I was especially atypical and none could have been more out of step with the landowner mentality and experience of the world.

            (5) I don’t ‘claim’ to be a scholar or to be qualified to a certain level.

            (6) I do not have any ‘preference’ for conclusions, because preferences are biases and ideologies, any honest person’s bugbear. I conclude on the basis of evidence, and the evidence and my conclusion are (so far as I have anything to do with it) one and the same. If the evidence adjusts, so does my conclusion. No-one can take a different position to that with integrity. This too you have heard (but digested?) upwards of 10 times.

            (7) You cannot possibly be under the illusion that ‘same sex relationships’ is a single issue. When I wrote under the topic it was under quite a number of separate headings, each of which has its own statistics.

            (8) The fact that you are treating this as a single issue makes me think that what we have here is an instance of the simplistic yes/no vote mentality. Which is of course not a high level of thinking or accuracy (arguably at the most simplistic level possible).

            (9) Using the word ‘relationships’ as though it were perspicuous or lucid is one of the signs I look for in determining clear thinkers from less clear.

            (10) Who cares about conclusions? It is the argumentation they are based on that is the thing. Conclusions do no more than follow from that. Those who emphasise conclusions rather than coherence and evidence are engaged in debate-lite, which is no debate at all, being evidence-free.

            (11) ‘Your conscious and unconscious dislike’. Firstly this claims to know my motivation.

            (12) Secondly it claims to know it better than I know it myself, with the result that I need to be informed about it!

            (13) Third, it ‘knows’ it in such detail that it ‘knows’ that part is conscious and part is unconscious.

            (14) ‘Dislike’. So if statistics tell against any practice, however strongly, anyone who mentions this is showing not accuracy (rational) but ‘dislike’ (emotional)?! How many times have I had to make this rational/emotional point, and the separate point about low scores in the reproduction of what people are actually saying? What are we to say about the interlocutor’s abilities when a point is made 10 times or more and still not digested?

            (15) You know that I am at the rational (i.e., good) end of this spectrum because I rely on and reproduce statistics. This compares with those liberal interlocutors I have encountered who are unaware of what the statistics are in any of the sub areas of which I spoke. Which does not prevent their indulging in multi-million pound discussions and *still not educating themselves on any of this – most whom I encounter are unable to quote one paper on one subtopic let alone its conclusions.

            (16) So what we have is the odd situation of someone not only externally qualified but also majoring on statistics (i.e., on the maximally objective) being reprimanded about their supposed shortcomings in these 2 areas – by a source that is/has neither.

            This is, by the way, one of the 3 or 4 stock liberal conversations, which it seems impossible for liberal interlocutors to get past, just as it is impossible to get interlocutors to digest points that have already been made over years and decades. I love to have conversations about 1000s of things. It would be all very well if the counter arguments were digested (this would prevent any such impasse), but often they either are not, or take years to percolate. You have digested the point about minimising bias, which is to your credit.

          • That is true in life in general, but our present context (as you acknowledge already by appeal to the standards of proper scholarship) is to do with accuracy to the truth. So unless (God forbid) you are saying people can never ever be accurate to the truth, because every time that they are someone will cry foul and say ‘What about emotional intelligence?’, then what you say is relevant in other contexts but not in this one.

            Statistical studies are just trying to get information. You have not explained how EI would improve their findings. Which is probably why statistical studies never treat this as a factor. Whereas emotional involvement would be grounds for bias, the very thing such studies’ raison d’etre is to avoid.

            EI is rarely quantified, though a lot of people are more than willing to claim that they possess it.

            As for not understanding what I write, the point has already been addressed. By the law of averages 50% of the time your interlocutor will have studied a given topic more than you have. I don’t expect to understand what an astrophysicist says and moreover I find the reason why obvious. Poor Bernard Randall got penalised explicitly because both judge and headteacher could not understand what he said. Which was not their fault, apparently.

          • The topic of awareness of bias and adjusting for bias is one that I have been repeatedly the person to bring up.
            It is not specifically EI that enables one to make the appropriate adjustments for bias.

        • If there were two angels there, then there was (at least) one. Not a contradiction, just a different focus of interest. Always read in context and with prespective in mind.

          • James

            Either there was 0, 1, 2 or more. I forget which gospel says 1, but it says there was one angel, not “at least” one angel.

            I don’t understand why we have to keep pretending that these contradictions aren’t there. It’s pretty common knowledge that even eye witnesses of a crime often give conflicting details so why would the gospel writers be any more accurate?

          • Ian

            It’s not a matter of being “highly selective” to count the number of angels present. I don’t understand why it’s so important to you that these accounts agree 100%. Even today we wouldn’t expect two accounts of the same event to agree on all the details so why would they have to do so 2000 years ago.

            Although this may seem a petty issue, I think it really matters because when we are not honest about these issues, it creates thin brittle faith in those who listen to us.

          • Yes it is—precisely as Peter PC1 illustrates in his contemporary example. If I met a friend in the street and recounted that to someone because they knew that person, but then recounted to someone else that I met two friends in the street because they knew both, that does not make either report inaccurate or unreliable.

            Instead, you are imposing modern criteria on the narrative, and ignoring the theological aims of the retelling.

            It creates brittle faith to make the move, as you do in this way, from noticing the differences in the accounts (which I actually emphasise—I do not claim that the accounts agree 100%!) to concluding that they are not reliable and full of inaccuracies.

          • The gospels are highly selective, but every account and every history is of necessity incredibly selective and leaves out over 99% of what could have been included.

          • This sort of thing is pilloried in Monty Python ‘Dennis Moore’, when John Cleese makes grand demands followed by subtle distinctions.

        • To give an example, if I said I went into town and met and spoke briefly to a friend in the street, would I be viewed as unreliable if I didnt mention the fact that when I met my friend he was with another guy at the time? Or did I decide in retelling it that I thought meeting and speaking with my friend was the important part?

          • That’s correct. Peter doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ‘formal contradiction’ and ‘substantive contradiction’ which every good forensic and historical investigation makes.
            I’m surprised he doesn’t also raise objections over the fact that Mt 28.3 says ‘the angel’, Mk 16.5 says ‘(the women entering the tomb) saw a young man sitting on the right side’, Luke 24.4 says ‘two men stood by them’ and John 20 doesn’t mention any angels!
            Which was it, Peter: men or angels?
            Or does Peter make the universal and commonsense inference that ‘young man’/’men’ means ‘angels as they appear to us’?
            If so, then Peter can also easily understand that writer A may report what he knows or cares to mention, while writer B brings in additional information. It isn’t ‘A versus B’ but ‘A plus B’. Historians do this all the time. History writing is necessarily synthetic, and we should resist the temptation to ascribe every difference to ‘bias’ or even ‘theology’.
            Interestingly, neither Matthew nor Mark mention Peter paying a visit to the tomb, but Luke 24.12 does and this agrees with John 20.3. Where did Luke get this information from? Maybe from Peter himself. Correlation between John and the Synoptics is an interesting subject.

          • In any case, Luke 24 calls the same individuals both men and angels. Though of course, as ever and hereabouts in particular, he is trying to harmonise.

  4. How long has the liberal mindset of today been in the making in the CoE, that it now operates as its Magisterium in delirium, confected confusion, abstracted ambiguity? That has no Holy Spirit nouse to discern satan, nor doctrine of demons. Screwtape runs amock, though defeated.
    It is little wonder that the ‘offence and foolishness’ of Easter engages such mindsets in excitable adversarial opposition.

    • Depends what you characterise as the liberal mindset of today. Luther and Cranmer were happy to throw awkward parts of Scripture out of the canon. The medieval Church loved viewing parts of Scripture as allegorical. The early Church fathers spent time offering commentaries because they thought interpretation was difficult, and pondered apparent inconsistencies. Jesus and Paul in the Scriptures made a very big deal of wanting to think about the point of the law and having a guiding principle to understand it – i.e. love your neighbour and love God, because love is the fulfilment of the law.

        • Ah, good point – although Cranmer had the 42 Articles, it wasn’t until Matthew Parker and the 39 Articles that the Church of England took the likes of 1 Maccabees out of the canon.

          • 1 and 2 Maccabees and the rest of the Apocrypha (Sirach, Wisdom, Judith, Tobit etc) were never part of Tanakh and were for that reason rejected as canonical by Jerome, who sought to determine the canon of the NT Church. The Reformers (and their predecessors) followed Jerome in this. The 42 Articles by Cranmer don’t enumerate the canon, the 39 do. F.F. Bruce wrote a long study of this, “The Canon of Scripture”.

          • It had a lot to do with their common (later) date range. And secondly with their language of origin. The Tanakh solidified to the extent that it was increasingly hard to gain admittance after a certain date. Just like these days it is increasingly hard to counter the ‘orthodoxies’ put forward in NT introductions even when they are increasingly ‘minority orthodoxies’.

          • The argument put forward by Roger Beckwitn is summed up in the title of his massive study, “The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church”, where hd holds that the Hebrew Canon was alreadg fixed in the time of Christ and would have been acknowledged by the primitive church in Judea and Galilee. Even the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox recognise that these boks were never accepted as canonical by the Jews, hence the name “deuetroncanonical”. Jerome distinguished between libri canonici and libri ecclesiastici but a synod of 397 ruled differently. The Reformers hearkened back to Jerome and retained his distinction, and the English Reformers did likewise. How did the Apocrypha and the Hebrew Canon (in LXX translation) get bundled together? Easy to happen in the ancient world when boks were not bound together in a codex but existed as individual scrolls. If they were all stored together in the same box in a church, you could easily think they were all considered inspired writings from thf same collection.

  5. Some people really want the Bible to be a Quran for Christians – a single author, writing a neat single text, quite consciously. There is a simplicity to that. But it really isn’t what the Bible is. The desire is understandable for a Muslim apologist, it’s a bit more troubling for a Christian one.

    The absolute high-point of Scripture (the Gospel accounts of Jesus) switches to telling the same story four times with differences in emphasis, chosen details, perspective etc.. If we wanted the simplicity of a neat single text, we’d have chosen a single Gospel. We might have combined it with Acts. We could have chosen to edit St Paul’s letters into a single volume of teaching and sayings. That would have given Christianity something much more akin to the Quran. It would be neater, clearer, less work to interpret, but it would not be inerrant and it would not be Scripture.

    The Scripture is a faithful record of the revelation of God to his people. That’s why we get a collection of books, written and compiled over hundreds of years, of different styles and genres. It’s also why it stops when the Apostles die: there are no more direct witnesses to the revelation. And it’s why Apostolic authorship was a key criteria for setting the canon of the New Testament. As a faithful record we hold it to be inerrant – there are no grounds for simply saying “that bit of Scripture is silly so we can just ignore it and pretend it’s not there”. That’s not the same however as saying “you can pull any verse out of Scripture, and hey presto! you’ve proven your case”. As the Catholic catechism says, Christianity is not a “religion of the book” – the true Word of God is Christ, and Scripture lives with the Holy Spirit.

    Where people seem to go wrong is thinking that to treat Scripture as inerrant means microscopically haggling and hand-wringing over individual verses and words outside of the rest of Scripture. A faithful record of the revelation of God is not the same as believing Scripture is a dictation from God or angels whispering in ears. If we really believed that we’d all be saying that all Christians ought to be learning Hebrew and Greek in order to receive the divine dictation. Instead the Scriptures have been merrily translated as soon as God’s people changed their language – the Second Temple period saw Scriptures being translated into Greek and Aramaic – because the revelation is in the meaning not the recitation of particular words. We later moved to Latin. And later to English, French, German, Urdu, Mandarin etc. etc.. This stands in stark contrast to the Quran where, despite translations existing, it remains a key practice to read it in the original Arabic and to go further than that by learning Tajwid, or how to correctly pronounce the Arabic as it would have been in the 7th century.

    • “That would have given Christianity something much more akin to the Quran. It would be neater, clearer, less work to interpret, but it would not be inerrant and it would not be Scripture.”
      If you think that is what the Quran is like, you obviously haven’t tried to read it. I have, and it’s really quite bewildering. And if I knew Arabic (I don’t), it would be even harder to understand, since I am told that maybe 10% or more of the Quran doesn’t make sense in Classical Arabic. The date and provenance of the Quran are very uncertain (possibly 8th century).
      Muslims don’t actually derive their beliefs about Muhammad from the Quran but principally from the hadiths and the Sirat Rasul Allah of Ibn Ishaq.

    • Just who are these “some people” in your first paragraph? Ian Paul? Hardly.
      This is really first base, school theology.
      It is a cartoon caricature of the “inspiration of scripture”, the doctrine of scripture.
      My acceptance of scripture came after conversion to Christ.
      Without a gift of faith, a revelation from God, it is suggested that to seek to convince unbelievers that God had anything to do with its composition would, in the words of a Messianic Jew I know, be little more than a circular argument from a closed material -world -philosophy – system.
      Or more succinctly put by a retired dentist friend: Scripture is all revelation by God or it is nothing.
      It is also quite remarkable that nothing here has touched upon what is meant by inerrancy, what it is and isn’t.
      So to assist with this here is a link:

      • “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.”

        If this is to be the definition of inerrancy, doesn’t it strip it of real practical value? You don’t know all the facts, you don’t have the original autographs, and whether interpretation is proper or not is not a subjective judgement.

          • “Whether interpretation is proper or not is a subjective judgement.”

            This sentence means: ‘The moon is made of green cheese.’

            No, don’t even think of contradicting me!

        • Is that all you say in response to the full import of the essay, even as it is rooted in the doctrine of God and together with the linked articles articles and essays.
          The key point in your citation is, “in everything they affirm”. It is therfore so very far from subjective interpretation or understanding, but scripture interpreting scripture, that is
          scriptures which are “rooted in the doctrine of God” and revelation, which is “scripture properly interpreted”.

    • ‘The Scripture is a faithful record of the revelation of God to his people.’ Wow! You have made a vast and generalised assertion about a massive number of writings, widely various in date and genre, and have not given us any data whereby to investigate whether it is true.

      • What I am disagreeing with here is your incredible idea that asserting something (especially something large) somehow makes it true. First you give the basis of your assertion.

          • The second is a circular argument. Christians are people of truth. Employment of circular arguments is not honest, and here if Christians did it they would be regressive, going back to the ways of the world.

            The internal witness. This is a holistic matter, necessarily. It is absolutely true and fiendishly hard to describe or track.

    • ‘because the revelation is in the meaning not the recitation of particular words.’

      True, but then again the words give the meaning in any language, dont they? That is what language is.

      And particular words chosen by a particular author are, it seems to me, used precisely because the author wants the reader to understand his meaning. Reading Andrew Bartlett’s book Men and Women in Christ has recently reminded me of that, and how a misunderstanding of specific words, for example as chosen and used by Paul, has lead to a misunderstanding of his meaning! This has obscured what exactly he was saying in his letters, to the extent he appears to be contradicting himself (and dont start me on words that probably shouldnt even be in Scripture).

      So words are extremely important in Scripture, particularly how they have been translated from one language to another. Sadly it seems a number of words in Scripture have not been properly understood and have not been translated correctly, thus confusing the meaning. In some cases this appears to be reflective of the bias of the translators, and has lead to various divisions within churches. So rather important I’d say.

  6. “A faithful record of the revelation of God is not the same as believing Scripture is a dictation from God or angels whispering in ears. If we really believed that we’d all be saying that all Christians ought to be learning Hebrew and Greek in order to receive the divine dictation.”

    This is close to being a caricature of the historic doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, and I have never known anyone who holds such a view. So why polemicise against it?
    Our catholic doctrine of Scripture is traced directly to our Lord who clearly believed that the Bible – or at least what we call ‘Tanakh’ – was the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit, in various ways, but not excluding dictation (‘Thus says Yahweh’). Certain prophetic figures, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are indeed depicted as receiving divine messages pretty directly (or so it seems). We should probably say the same about the presentation of Moses. That Jesus believed Tanakh to be the Word of God is very evident from even a cursory reading of the Gospels; but a popular presentation that marshals the evidence can be found in John Wenham’s old book ‘Christ and the Bible’ (1972).
    And the idea has been attacked from very early days – long before Toland, de Wette and ‘Lux Mundi’. Porphyry of Tyre in the 3rd century and the pre-Christian Augustine in the 4th are just two examples from the ancient world of writers who polemicised against the Bible.

    But on the second point I would say this: Personally, I believe that all Christians who have the intellectual capacity should learn some Hebrew and Greek, at least to make intelligent use of commentaries and to understand the footnotes in their Bible translations. I am pretty sure that the majority of Muslims in the world – who are not Arabs but South Asians, Indonesians and west Africans – do not really understand the Quran in Arabic. Reciting an ancient foreign language (or languages if the Quran is partly Syriac) is one thing, understanding is very much another.

  7. The “theologians” of His day were quite divided on the question of resurrection and of course the political wing of the Herodians were allied with to do away with Jesus.
    Sounds like some churches I know of, whose “worthies” declare that “the resurrection was just a conjuring trick with bones.”

    There are numerous accounts of the experiences of the Resurrection from Mary to Paul and John. Some are described in some detail; Others only referenced and varied
    E.g. dead arising, curtains torn. Some personal and perhaps very intimate, some very public, perhaps quite dramatic. What awesome effects they all must have experienced, there are statements made about this fact from eyewitnesses that cannot be imagined. Not understanding the how or why of these accounts and label one a “zombie apocalypse” is outlandish.
    For Paul it became his consuming passion “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
    3:11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
    All of which indicates that “resurrection life” is something to be personally known and experienced through the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.
    The “drive “ of Paul’s mission was “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ…SEE
    / for an in depth study of this Mystery.
    What is the effect of the resurrection power in the life of those who have been crucified with Christ and know the power of His resurrection.

    Jesus said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

    “This is what it means to be a Christian — to embrace the whole Christ.”

    God intends that the joy that was set before Jesus and that gave him the power to endure the greatest suffering in the greatest act of love for the least deserving — God intends that joy to be your joy. This is what it means to be a Christian — to embrace the whole Christ: the suffering Christ, the risen Christ, the reigning Christ, the coming Christ, who says at every point, “I have come, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

    The reason the resurrection has explosive power in our lives now is the same reason it had explosive power in the life of Jesus on Good Friday. In his case, the hope of resurrection was the joy that held him to the cross. And so, it is with us: for the joy that is set before us in the resurrection, we endure the cost of love, no matter how high, for the least deserving.

    Paul says “ I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
    For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

    So here’s the picture: Paul and Silas have been shamed by being stripped, beaten with rods, and they are sitting in the deepest part of the prison, feet in stocks, sleepless at midnight. What are they doing? They’re singing. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
    . These greatest of all men were singing men.

    Now, here’s my question: How did Paul and Silas sing to the Lord and love the jailer, after humiliation, beating, dungeon, stocks, and sleeplessness — when what you and I usually do is grumble and plan to sue somebody.
    This is the explosive power of the resurrection now.
    Singing to the Lord in suffering. And loving the jailer. This is not a personality trait. This is Christianity.
    What do we know about the “power of His resurrection” Does the knowledge and experience of it Fill us with all
    joy[worship] peace [ rectitude]and hope[certainty]
    Paul’ estimation of himself was of great humility “I am the least of the Apostles”
    “I am the chief of sinners,” “I am less than the least of all saints”. He of all men knew the power of the resurrection life and who advised that “The holy scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation.

    • ‘How did Paul and Silas sing to the Lord and love the jailer, after humiliation, beating, dungeon, stocks, and sleeplessness — when what you and I usually do is grumble and plan to sue somebody.’

      I think youre being rather hard on others. Paul and Silas experienced that only as a direct result of their beliefs and their public preaching etc. Not many of us today, at least in the west, suffer only due to being Christian. And of course Paul was quite prepared to assert his rights when need be, by appealing to Rome.

    • and I would also add one key reason why Paul at least could endure such extreme suffering due to his faith was because of the very powerful experiences he had had with God over the past few years. Noone should downplay that.


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