“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” -1 Corinthians 15:3-8
This passage written by Paul, is a brief overview of the events contained in the gospels. He briefly recounts Christ’s death by crucifixion, for what cause, His eventual resurrection, and His appearances to the apostles, His brother, crowds, the early church, and finally, Christ appearing to Paul himself. This can be said to be more of a historical summary, for it quite simply contains events without any references to the teachings of Christ, or the preexisting Scriptures, in the form of the Old Testament. Paul obviously brings the Old Testament and New together, illuminating them within His other writings, indicating and revealing to us, that the Scripture does not exist in two parts, rather it is one large narrative, Christ being revealed, both implicitly and explicitly, since the beginning. Indeed, because of the Gospels, Paul, and independent sources such as Pliny the Elder, or Josephus, The vast majority of historians believe Christ to have been a real person, but the events surrounding the crucifixion, resurrection and who Christ was, are the topics that are truly questioned by the students of history.
Though Paul obviously believes Christ to be fact, that He was both man and God, and that He died and rose again, there are some details missing from Paul’s “historical” synopsis. One of these concerns the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene and other women who visited the tomb on the third day. Why was it not included if it is indeed fact like the gospels tell us? It is this question, among others, I am going to endeavor to explore.
The first thing we need to understand, is that as Christ and Paul revealed the complete unity in both the New and Old Testaments, and we find that even in the case of the Gospels, they are not supposed to stand on their own, though they most certainly can. Rather, they mesh or interlace perfectly to form a concise narrative of the events that took place. Though perfect as a whole, it helps to recognize that each gospel was written to address a different purpose or group of people. This may account for that which was included or omitted in the particular gospels.
- Matthew Levi wrote the Book of Matthew. Matthew prior to his discipleship was a tax collector and therefore, not exactly a revered individual in the eyes of the world. His gospel was directed at the Hebrews and contains many quotes from the Old Testament.
- John Mark wrote the Book of Mark. This books scope of focus was directed at the Romans. It is believed that Peter had a large influence on the authorship of this Book, and indeed it is believed to contain more words of Peter than any of the other gospels.
- Luke wrote the Book of Luke and was a close confidant of Paul. His book is said to take more of a “scientific” approach, and Luke, a physician and not being one of the original Twelve, acted as a historian, gathering the accounts about our Lord and Savior. This is the longest book of the New Testament and was directed at the Greeks.
- John was responsible for the writing of the Gospel of John. This gospel is the most broad in terms of focus and audience. In addition, the book contains more words of Christ than any other.
Another thing to consider is that if something is omitted, this in no way, like some suppose, represents an inevitable contradiction. In fact, using more than one gospel can give us a much clearer understanding of the events which surrounded Jesus Christ, and what He went through for us, that we may be saved by faith upon Him. For example, let us look at the question concerning Mary Magdalene’s visit from the Lord and how it’s omission by Paul doesn’t necessarily lead to contradiction, or even suggest that it didn’t happen. By using the accounts from Scripture, we can begin to piece together what happened at the time of the resurrection without any contradiction being evident.
In Matthew, Chapter 28, several things happen which can be considered the first, or beginning of the resurrection narrative. After a violent earthquake an angel of the Lord descended, rolling back the stone and sitting upon it. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that the angel may have been the instrument of God, which brought about the quake. At any rate, there were several guards at the tomb who all suddenly became greatly frightened by the manifestation they were privy to. These guards were placed there by Pilate in Chapter 27, after the chief priests and Pharisees recounted to Pilate what the Lord had said about being raised after three days. They were afraid the disciples would come and try to steal the body, initiating a great deception. Pilate told them they could go make the tomb as secure as they wanted, until the third day. These guards were terrified by the earthquake and angel of the Lord. They were later bribed by the Jews, to say that His body was indeed stolen. Matthew, Chapter 28, Verse 15, tells us that this story was circulated among the Jews, “to this very day.” It certainly has, for it has surpassed the Jews and has become a frequently cited explanation for the resurrection of Christ.
In addition to the guards being witness to the event, so too, according to the Gospels, was Mary the Mother of James. Other Books even include more companions. The Book of John mentions Mary Magdalene alone, while the other books of the gospels include others in her party. According to the Book of Luke, 24:10, her companions were Salome, again, Mary the mother of James (which is held to be the Sister of Mary, mother of Jesus), and Joanna. Though some commentary considering the reconciliation of these accounts in Scripture believe Mary to be alone at some point, before running to tell Peter and John, I don’t think this is the case. I believe the Scriptures themselves refute this. The exact time this happens is similar in all the accounts, the day after the sabbath at day break. Furthermore, their purpose was not to just visit the tomb, but for anointing His body with spices and perfumes. I believe this purpose suggests a group rather than just a couple individuals. Lastly, the words of Mary Magdalene herself indicate it, when in the Book of John (the same Book that only mentions Mary Magdalene as a witness), Chapter 20, Verse 2, she says to Simon Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the Tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him?” In her statement, she says, “we,” this obvious plurality indicating that it was not just her who witnessed the empty tomb, or even the first angel.
Why does the Scripture indicate only one person when more may be involved? Simply because it may not be relevant, or because Mary, and later Peter, are the real focus of attention, for it was their experiences which are recounted, though others may have been present. At this point we have Mary Magdalene and her companions walking up to the tomb of the Lord, again to anoint His body. As far as I can tell there are two possibilities when considering how the stone was placed before the tomb. First, we look to Matthew. In Chapter 27, Verse 60, Joseph of Arimathea rolls a large stone into place. Now, it doesn’t mention other people, but that doesnt mean there weren’t more involved in this process. Yet, if we assume he was alone, we find at this time the rock wasn’t as big as often depicted. But wait, before you start writing a e-mail, there is more. In Verse 66, the guards are said to make the tomb secure by posting a guard, which in this context would be made up of several guards. In addition, they put “a seal” on the stone. Most feel this refers to a “stamp” of sorts which would discourage anyone from breaking into the tomb, for with the breaking of that stamp, one would incur the wrath of the Roman Empire. However, some other translations offer another perspective. These refer to the guards as “sealing” the stone. The Romans at this time are believed to have concrete, also known as “Opus Caementicium.” In fact, by the mid-first century, underwater construction of edifices containing this concrete were underway, so the seal could have been an actual “sealant,” of the tomb.
Despite my pondering, the simplest explanation might be the best, for on their way to the tomb, they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?” It is possible that they didn’t know the actions of the Romans in securing the tomb, for this could have occurred on the sabbath, which they all observed. In spite of the fact I said Joseph may have moved the rock on his own, it doesn’t line up with Scripture, for Mark 16:4 tells us, indeed, that the stone was very large and Mary Magdalene was there to witness Joseph move the stone into place. So I do believe the latter to be the case, and feel it is easily explained by the fact that when people are in a state of grief or emotional anguish, they don’t always react or behave in a rational fashion.
Next we have a curious account of the appearance of angels and this is where many find contradiction in the Bible. Before tackling this issue, however, I think we should focus somewhat on the particular attributes of these heavenly beings, as is represented in Scripture. An angel is not only a messenger from the Lord, but can also be used to complete His commands. We even know from Revelation, Chapter 16, that they can also be used by God to pour out His wrath. Furthermore, an angel is not bound to physicality and can appear or speak to whom it wishes in accordance with God’s command.
The spiritual eyes of one needs to be first opened before one can perceive of an angel. For instance, contained in Numbers 22:21-40 is the account of Balaam and his donkey. In this case the donkey can perceive of the angel, but Balaam himself can’t. Thus, if one is granted to gift of seeing such beings, the angel that is perceived might not be the only angel in attendance. Also, if you are in company with another individual, it remains a possibility, that if you are privy to such a manifestation, the other party may not be able to perceive of it. This is exactly what happens in 2 Kings 6:15-17:
“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my Lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked. 16‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ 17And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
This provides ample evidence that there may have been actually two angels in the tomb and the account of one, could have been given to Luke from a source who didn’t have eyes to see both of the heavenly beings. In fact, there could have been a multitude for we know. Yet, the Lord knows. There is even speculation that this “lone” man was actually Christ. However, I do not believe this to be the case, for not only is there scriptural evidence that shows angels can appear as man, but also, and more importantly, when Mary is weeping by herself two angels appear to her while she is in the presence of Christ. More on that later.
According to Matthew 28, we find that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary travel to go view the tomb of our Lord. As mentioned before, they had already discussed how they were going to move the rock in front. An angel, given the assignment of perhaps causing a large earthquake had come down from heaven, rolled away the stone and sat upon it. This left both Mary’s and their other companions, free to enter the tomb as they will without any hindrance at the hands of the guards, for all the guards cowered before the heavenly being upon the stone. The angel in Matthew 28:5-6 calms the women, saying to them to not be afraid, as angels frequently do. In addition, the angel tells them that Christ has risen, just as He said He would, and invites the women into the tomb to see where He had lain. The angel then instructs the women to run to the disciples once they leave.
I feel it is at this point the women enter the tomb, at the invitation of the angel outside. It was not only this angel’s duty to remove the stone, or cause an earthquake, but also protect the women from the guards, who were there from orders directly from Pilate. By entering the tomb they essentially broke Roman law, and the Romans were not known for their kind, humane punishments.
At the angels urging, the women, both Mary’s with Salome and Joanna, entered the tomb, where a “young man,” according to Mark 16:5, in white sat at their right side. Why is this angel the only one mentioned in Mark, when the Book of Luke says there are two? Concerning the nature of angels it could be that this is the only one that appeared to all, while the other may have been unseen by some of the group. It’s also important that we remember what, “angel” means. Angel, literally translated, means: “Messenger.” Perhaps there were two beings, but only one is mentioned in Mark due to the fact he may have been the lone communicator among the two. So though one isn’t mentioned in Luke, I don’t find any inevitable contradiction in the accounts, for it never says there is ONLY one. The angel restates what the angel outside said, and it makes sense. For the uniformity of their words, suggests obedience to God’s commandment concerning what they were allowed, or not allowed, to say. Although an angel of the Lord was posted outside to protect the tomb, the evidence was inside the tomb, which the woman were invited to see and report to the disciples.
Although the angel told the women that Christ had risen, Mark 16:8 gives us some insight into their state of mind. What they were just told is the phenomenal truth of Christ our Lord who had risen from the dead. It’s a little hard, knowing what we know, to conceptualize that these women couldn’t grasp the truth right away, but that’s only because we are quite distant from the actual occurrence of walking into Christ’s tomb, seeing our beloved missing, and a stranger telling us He has rose. The women were understandably confused and frightened by the encounter, not because they didn’t love Jesus, quite the contrary, but rather because it was so outside the realm of normal everyday occurrence. Such things produce fright and though they were afraid, Matthew tells us, at the same time they were filled with joy.
What I regard as the next account is what happened on the women’s way to tell the disciples of there encounter. This is recounted in Matthew 28:8-10:
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples. (9)Suddenly, Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
As the women were on their way to tell the disciples and had their encounter with Jesus, the chief priests and elders bribed the guards to say that His body was stolen as they slept. In addition, the elders promised that no harm would come to them if they did so. They were bribed to lie and keep quiet about the amazing events they had indeed saw.
There are some who believe that Mary Magdalene was alone, when she ran and told the disciples, or that all the women were there, but in more than one group. However, I feel the Scriptures tell us different. Luke 24:10 says explicitly:
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”
Another name, Salome, is mentioned in the Gospels, but Luke indicates that there was a group of women who experienced the risen Christ. If Christ indeed appeared to this women, which nobody at first believed, citing it as “nonsense,” Why did Mary Magdalene say that she didn’t know what happened to the body? John 20:9 tells us that they yet didn’t know that Jesus had to rise from the dead, so there was obviously some confusion about what was taking place. If we interject ourselves in the resurrection account, is it really that hard to believe that such confusion was evident? Mary and her companions didn’t see the body of Christ, but saw Him on their way to inform the disciples. It’s possible that Mary considered Christ as some kind of apparition, like the disciples themselves did, and He may have looked somewhat different. We know at a later time that Mary Magdalene is unable to recognize Christ, and Mary isn’t alone in this. Christ veils His identity from a number of the disciples after His resurrection. Mary Magdalene being witness to the crucifixion, which are quite obviously grisly and brutal forms of execution, may have not realized as of yet, the nature of His new body. Thus, though she disclosed to the disciples of their encounter, what happened to the body that was missing from the tomb still could have been a mystery to Her.
The Book of John tells us that Peter and John started running for the tomb once the women told of their encounters. This was dangerous undertaking especially after the charges that the elders and guards were making against them, and indeed their very lives could have been in danger. John reached the tomb first, but did not go in, while Simon Peter on the other hand did. Peter saw the strips of linen and burial shroud neatly folded up. I find it probable that at least Mary followed the two men. Then John went inside observing the same thing as Peter and believed, though John 20:9 suggests they didn’t have a full understanding of what had occurred. Also Luke 24:12 says that after Peter left the tomb, he wondered what had happened. One of the gospel accounts only tells the account of Peter running to the tomb and peering in, but this could have been a simplification, for adding John doesn’t necessarily add anything but an extra witness. There is no consequence for John being there and He may have been ommited due to it’s irreverence.
Continuing in the book of John, we find Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene. The disciples returned home as John 20:10 tells us, but she stood there outside the tomb weeping. Why? Hadn’t she seen the Lord? She indeed had, but the disciples’ time to have their eyes opened hadn’t yet come to pass. I am certain she wept, at least in part, due to frustration, for the collaborating evidence she wished would be there was not. There were no men or angels while Peter and John were there, but as she leaned into the tomb after they had gone, she saw two angels of white, seated where Christ’s body had been. One at the head and one at the foot which could be symbolic. They asked her why she was crying, to which she responded, “they have taken my Lord away.” Now she turned and saw Jesus, but here she too had her eyes blinded, until Christ spoke her name. She then recognized Him, and after being stopped from embracing Him, she returned to the disciples telling that she had seen the Lord.
I offer this viewpoint of the reconciliation of the resurrection accounts, not as Gospel, but as just one possibility of what could have happened. Indeed, it comes from my own study of these accounts, thus it may be full of error. I don’t encourage anyone to follow this explanation or consider it as infallible as the Bible, please don’t, my main goal was to point out that these resurrection accounts can have many different interpretations, and don’t necessarily reach a contradiction. Some say there are at least 18 contradictions in the resurrection accounts, but I don’t find any evidence for this, for I believe the differences can be explained, and that most the citied contradictions are just examples of biblical omission.
Often times, we Christians are asked questions that do not appear within the Gospels or even the rest of Scripture. To those non-believers, and even, at times, believers, for the Bible to be true, it needs to satisfy all our curiosity concerning events. I recall once being asked how Christ’s father, Joseph, died? There is no biblical answer, other than the Bible speaking to Joseph’s character, but how He died is not stated in the Bible. Why? Simply, I believe the Bible tells us what we need to know, and there are certain details that have no consequence concerning our relationship with the Lord.
Omission in the word of God is suggested by the Gospels themselves. The last verse in the Gospel of John, 21:25 states:
“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.”
It should be evident by this verse that indeed certain events are not recorded in the Scriptures. Perhaps God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that the short attention span of man wouldn’t lend itself to a Bible that would dwarf the size of the full Encyclopedia Britannica. Thus, the Scriptures only reveal to us what we need to know, and the spreading of the word and of Christianity throughout the world testifies to its perfection. Yet, as I have brought up here and in a previous entry (see my note concerning 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, “On The Chaos of Reason, The Firstfruit, and The Transfiguration”), let us be wary not to see omission as contradiction.
In addition, we need to be aware that the Bible may contradict, not by the word itself, but because of the beliefs we hold on to, which may be perpetuated by the traditions of the Church, Catholicism or any number of other schools of theology. I recall hearing at one time that the first person Christ appeared to was His mother Mary. This tradition, as far as I am aware, began in the Catholic Church. Yet, it isn’t mentioned in scripture. However, because we know things are omitted as confirmed by the word, it doesn’t mean He didn’t, just that we can’t say for sure in a biblical context. In reality, this belief is based on what man thinks Christ had ought to have done, which is extremely prideful. If this or such tradition is juxtaposed with the word, contradiction can easily arise from it, and perhaps cause confusion among the Body.
In the 14th-century, a Franciscan friar, Father William of Ockham’s namesake was applied to a popular philosophical theory, known as, “Ockham’s Razor,” or now more commonly spelled, “Occam’s Razor.” This theory suggests that from any competeing hypotheses, the one with the least amount of assumptions, or the hypothesis containing the simplest answer, is usually the correct one. Though I have reservations about this particular philosophical theory, when it comes to finding contradiction in the Bible it applies, though not absolutely. There are times when we think too much behind scriptural passages, when the true reconciliation is apt to be something much more simple.
A great example of this is the supposed contradiction between Christ’s first meeting of Simon Peter and Andrew. The two, “contradictions,” are found in Matthew 4:18-20 and John 1:35-42. The account in John describes their first meeting with Jesus. Andrew went to see where Christ was staying, and called on his brother Simon Peter exclaiming they had found the Messiah. In Matthew however, Christ calls to Andrew and Simon Peter as they were casting a net into the Sea of Galilee. He tells the men to follow Him and that He will make them fishers of men. Many make the assumption that both of these are representational of Simon Peter and Andrew’s first meeting of Christ, but this is false. Rather, the Book of John describes how they met, while Matthew describes how they were called into discipleship. “Occam’s Razor,” turns out to be appropriate in this case, for if one lets go of assumptions and looks at the verses in a more simplistic manner, the contradiction is negated, and these two accounts come together in complete unity.
Within this entry I have attempted to identify some of the means by which people are tripped up by contradiction. I believe that most of it is based on assumption, tradition, and omission. Indeed, these are some of the very things that have led me astray in the past. We need to be aware of the stumbling blocks such things pose and that it is the Scriptures that should change our point of view, rather than our view distort the Scriptures. I pray that all those attempting to find answers would rely on the revelation and teaching of God and not that of man, who due in part to his faulty nature, can promote the use of assumption within the Word of God. May the Lord protect His word and keep us free from falsehood. Amen.
I would like to once again acknowledge Terie for her input concerning this entry. Her propensity for grammar is an amazing gift, that I tend to lack. Thank you Terie!