In Dan Barker's article in which he poses the Easter Challenge, he also lists some supposed contradictions. I have answered them below. (Barker's words in italics), my answers in bold.

Here are some of the discrepancies among the resurrection accounts:

What time did the women visit the tomb?

Answer: Notice that John, the only one to mention a departure before dawn, is also the only one who mentions no women apart from Mary Magdalene. So Mary Magdalene left her home before dawn, as stated by John. She met up with the other women, (which is where the other three gospels take up the narrative), and the group went to the tomb just after dawn.

Who were the women?


Answer: All of the above. The writers were not obliged to mention every person present.

However, if we speculate that not all women made the second trip to the tomb (when they saw Jesus), we can give plausible reasons for the different lists:

What was their purpose?

Answer: Actually in Matthew they had already seen the tomb (27:61). So the purpose was to look at the tomb and bring spices. They may not have been aware of the spicing done by Joseph of Arimathea, or they may simply have wished to do a further "anointing" (Mark 16:1).

Was the tomb open when they arrived?

Answer: Yes. While Matthew describes the opening of the tomb, he does not say that the women witnessed it.

Who was at the tomb when they arrived?

Answer: Two angels. Two were present, but Matthew and Mark only mention the speaker. It is clear that the "men" in Mark and Luke were intended to be understood as angels, because they were dressed in a brilliant white and (more significantly) they had a message from God for the women.

Where were these messengers situated?

Answer: John is describing the second visit to the tomb (see John 20:2), while Matthew descibes what happened before the women arrive. So only Mark and Luke describe the women's first sight of the angels.

There are at least two possible resolutions of Mark and Luke: either the angels were initially seated and the women were not startled until they stood up; or some women saw them seated, while others did not notice them until they stood up.

What did the messenger(s) say?

Answer: All of what is reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke. (John 20:13 is describing the women's second visit to the tomb).

Did the women tell what happened?

Answer: Yes. Mark 16:8 only tells what happened initially. The original ending of Mark is lost (with the existing version ending with the women not telling anyone), so it is possible that Mark wrote of the women later telling the disciples.

When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?

Answer: Unclear. Ignore Mark 16:10-11 because Mark 16:9-20 is not part of the original gospel by Mark. But Matthew and Luke still have the women reporting the angels' message (that Jesus had risen). But, as Mark 16:8 says, the women were bewildered and did not initially tell anyone. And as Luke 24:11 says, their sounded like nonsense. So what probably happened was that the women were both bewildered and excited, and perhaps all talking at once.

So I see at least two possibilities:

  1. Mary did know, but in the confusion John only heard part of the report, so that is all he mentions;
  2. John only mentions Mary's report, while Matthew and Luke include the reports of the other women. Mary did not understand that Jesus had risen, while the others did. Since John only mentions Mary's report, he does not mention the resurrection. Matthew and Luke include the reports of all women, and so include the report of the resurrection.

When did Mary first see Jesus?

Answer: After. Mark 16:9-10 is not in the original gospel by Mark, and there is a gap between verses 8 and 9 of Matthew 28. During that gap, Mary returned to the disciples (as reported in John 20:2). Matthew 28:9 occured after the women gave the report then returned to the tomb, and so describes the same appearance as John 20:11-17.

Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?

Answer: Yes. John 20:17 is literally "stop touching me", so obviously he could be touched.

After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?

Answer: Peter, as stated by Paul and Luke. (Luke 24:34 indicates that this was before the two disciples walking to Emmaus). Matthew and John (and Mark) omit this appearance.

(Oh and Paul does mean twelve: Judas was dead but his replacement Matthias was a witness to the resurrection, as stated in Acts 1:22).

Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?

Answer: In a room at Jerusalem, as reported by Luke and John (and Mark). Matthew 28:16-20 is a later appearance.

Did the disciples believe the two men?

Answer: Yes. Mark 16:13 is not in the original gospel by Mark.

What happened at the appearance?

Answer: Both of what happened in Luke and John. Matthew describes a later appearance. Mark 16:14-19 is not in the original gospel by Mark,

Did Jesus stay on earth for a while?

Answer: Yes. Acts 1:3 (which was also written by Luke) makes clear there was a time gap between the resurrection and the ascension. Nowhere in Luke 24 does it say it all happened on one day. Mark 16:19 is not in the original gospel by Mark,

Where did the ascension take place?

Answer: The Mount of Olives, which is near Bethany. Bethany was on the east side of the Mount of Olives, and both Mark 11:1 and Luke 19:29 indicate that the two were close together. Luke 24:50 can reasonably be translated "in the vicinity of Bethany" (as in the NIV) so that's no contradiction with Acts 1:12.

Mark 16:19 does not mention a location but in any case it is not in the original gospel by Mark. Matthew and John do not mention the ascension but surely some sort of disappearance by Jesus is implied. Paul in fact does mention the ascension in Eph 4:8-10 and implies it in 1 Thess 1:10.

Back to Answering the Easter Challenge

Back to Peter's Home Page

Contact Details