Claims of Contradictions in the Resurrection Accounts

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: I John 1:1-4

 

I.         People who don’t want to hear a message will try to find some way to discredit either the messenger or the message

            A.        If there is a perceived flaw, then they feel justified in tossing out everything they don’t want to accept

            B.        Atheists and Muslims do this with the Bible

                        1.         Neither group wants to accept the possibility that Jesus is God

                        2.         One way they tackle the problem is to find differences between the gospel accounts and claim these are contradictions

II.        Examples

            A.        What does the law say?

                        1.         John 18:31 - It is not lawful for us to put any man to death

                        2.         John 19:7 - By our law he ought to die

                        3.         This one is simple. There are two laws under consideration

                                    a.         John 18:31 is a discuss with Pilate about the Roman law, which the Jews were under

                                    b.         John 19:7 is talking about the Jewish law regarding blasphemy

            B.        Which women came to the tomb?

                        1.         Matthew 28:1 says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

                        2.         Mark 16:1 says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome

                        3.         Luke 24:10 says Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women

                        4.         John 20:1 says Mary Magdalene

                        5.         Go back through these accounts. Not one of them says “only”

                                    a.         People don’t tell everything that they witness, even when they are being perfectly honest.

                                    b.         We always provide an edited account emphasizing what we think is most important for the people to whom we are recounting the story.

                                    c.         There is no contradiction, just a different summary. Combined, we know that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and at least one other woman were at the tomb.

            C.        When did they visit?

                        1.         Matthew 28:1 - As it began to dawn

                        2.         Mark 16:2 - When the sun had risen

                        3.         Luke 24:1 - At early dawn

                        4.         John 20:1 - While it was still dark

                        5.         Clearly the times given are not that far different, though Mark and John seem to be at odds.

                        6.         But are we talking about when the people left to go to the tomb, when they were walking to the tomb, or when they arrived at the tomb

                                    a.         It makes a difference because the graveyard was not next door to their homes, nor was it in the city limits of Jerusalem. Graves are unclean, so they were outside the city.

                                    b.         The answer is that they took off just before dawn and arrived just as the sun had risen.

            D.        What did they find?

                        1.         Matthew 28:2-4 - An angel came and rolled away the stone and sat on it

                        2.         Mark 16:2-5 - A young man sitting on the right

                        3.         Luke 24:2-4 - An empty tomb and suddenly two men appeared

                        4.         John 20:1 - Saw that the tomb was opened

                        5.         Matthew’s account is explaining why the women found the tomb opened and there were no guards. In other words, he explains what happened before the women reached the tomb.

                        6.         John’s account tells us that when Mary Magdalene saw the tomb opened that she immediately ran off to find the apostles. She didn’t stop to explore.

                        7.         Luke’s account tells us that the remaining women look around and in the tomb. At first, they saw no one and no body of Jesus. Then suddenly two men in dazzling garments were there with them in the tomb.

                        8.         Mark’s account tells us that it was the man on the right side who did the speaking.

                        9.         Again, we have a case of different authors giving different summaries. The differences also came from whose viewpoint the narrative is following.

            E.        Who told the disciples?

                        1.         Matthew 28:8 - The women told the disciples who received the message with joy

                        2.         Mark 16:8 - The women told no one

                        3.         Luke 24:7-11 - The women, including Mary, told the eleven but were not believed

                        4.         John 20:2 - Mary told Peter and John

                        5.         Timing because essential

                                    a.         Mary ran ahead of the other women and told Peter and John

                                    b.         Meanwhile, the other women left the tomb

                                                (1)       Out of fear, they told no one as they headed back into Jerusalem

                                                (2)       They found all the disciple and reported what happened, but they were not believed

                                                (3)       It is also possible since Mary had already told Peter and John that the other women found the other nine.

                                    c.         Matthew’s account skips over the period of disbelief and jumps ahead to when the disciples accepted that Jesus was alive

            F.        Who else went to the tomb?

                        1.         Luke 24:12 - Peter ran to the tomb

                        2.         John 20:3-8 - Peter and John ran to the tomb

                        3.         Once again, there is no “only” in the accounts.

                                    a.         Mary Magdalene found Peter and John.

                                    b.         They ran to the tomb, but John was faster and arrived first. He looked into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings, but he didn’t enter.

                                    c.         Peter followed and entered the tomb as both Luke and John report

                                    d.         This is only a different summary. Luke focused on Peter. John is giving his view of what he saw.

                        4.         Why didn’t Peter and John run into the other women? Because they were busy telling the rest that the tomb was empty.

            G.        Who saw Jesus alive first?

                        1.         Matthew 28:9 - The disciples

                        2.         Mark 16:9 - To Mary Magdalene first

                        3.         Luke 24:13-27 - To Cleopas and another disciple heading to Emmaus

                        4.         John 20:11-14 - To Mary Magdalene

                        5.         I Corinthians 15:5 - To Cephas (Peter) and then to all of the apostles

                        6.         Notice that only one account actually says “first.”

                                    a.         Once again we are dealing with summaries and some events are skipped

                        7.         Jesus appeared to Mary first in the garden.

                                    a.         He then appeared Cleopas and the other disciple is likely to have been Peter (matching Paul’s account).

                                                (1)       Or Jesus appeared to Peter alone but it wasn’t recorded in the four gospels

                                    b.         He then appeared to ten of apostles (John 20:19-24)

                                    c.         He then appeared to all of the disciples eight days later (John 20:26-29).

                                    d.         Paul skips over the first appearance to most of the disciples.

                                    e.         Once again, Matthew skips details to get to the highlights.

III.       We could keep going, but this is sufficient for now

            A.        The problem is an unrealistic expectation for all accounts to record exactly the same summary of the events.

            B.        John said that everything was not recorded - John 20:30

            C.        The reason is that there were too many things to mention - John 21:25

            D.        While the summaries are different, they do not contradict each other.

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