If you read the gospels side by side it soon becomes clear how difficult it is to establish what actually happened – which makes sense given the fact that these are traditions written by later, educated Greek-speaking Christians (not eye-witnesses) decades after the death of Jesus; traditions which have been largely embellished with legendary elements during their oral circulation.
- Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)
- Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1)
- Women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem – possibly Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “other women” (Luke 23:55)
- Mary Magdalene the first time, bringing Simon Peter and the “other” disciple with her the second time (John 20:1-3)
2. Had the stone already been rolled away or not?
- It had already been rolled away (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1)
- It was rolled away by an angel after an earthquake upon the women’s arrival (John 28:2)
3. What did they see there?
- One young man in a “white robe” sitting on the stone bed (Mark 16:5)
- Two men in bright clothes appeared standing beside them (Luke 24:4)
- An angel sitting on top of the stone (Matthew 28:5)
- Mary saw no one the first time, but then after Simon Peter and the other disciple left, two angels appeared to her inside the temple, sitting on the stone bed (John 20:12)
4. What were they told?
- To tell the disciples to “go to Galilee,” where Jesus will meet them (Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:7)
- Remember what Jesus had told them “while he was in Galilee,” that he had to die and rise again (Luke 24:7)
- She was to tell the disciples that he has risen (John 20:17)
5. What do the women/Mary do next?
- *They fled and “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). The original gospel ends there! Our earliest and best manuscripts do not have the traditional ending – or a shorter ending found in other manuscripts. Click here to read more about this.
- Tell the eleven disciples what happened (Matthew 28:8)
- Tell the eleven disciples and other people what happened (Luke 24:8)
- Mary tells disciples what she had seen and heard (John 20:18)
6. What were those told do in response?
- They were not told originally. In the extended ending they do not believe her (16:11)
- They Depart to Galilee (Matthew 28:16)
- They do not believe the women because it seems to be “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11)
- Nothing, since Jesus soon appears (John 20:19)
7. How does Jesus appear to the disciples?
- He doesn’t originally. In the extended ending he appears to two of them as they were walking “into the country.” They then told the remaining disciples but again they didn’t believe. Jesus then appeared to all 11 during a meal (Mark 16:12-14).
- On a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:17)
- In Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-36). He then took them out to Bethany where he blessed them and lifted up to heaven (Luke 24:50-51).
- He appears the same day that evening “where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19)
*Contemporary scholars conclude that Mark’s traditional ending was not part of the original text; it originally ended at 16:8. This is due to the fact that it is not in our earliest and best manuscripts. Moreover, an alternative, shorter ending appears on some ancient manuscripts, sometimes combined with the traditional ending and an additional exchange between Jesus and the eleven. The most likely origin for the longer ending is that it was written early in the second century, summarizing evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Click here to read more.
One point in particular especially seems to be irreconcilable. If Matthew is right, that the disciples immediately go to Galilee to see Jesus for the first time after his resurrection (28:16-17), how can Luke be right that the disciples stay in Jerusalem the whole time, see Jesus ascend near its borders, and stay until the day of Pentecost (24:33-51)? Some will argue that Jesus first went to Galilee and then back along the outskirts of Jerusalem to see him ascend. The problem is, Luke’s Gospel leaves no room for that to happen:
49“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
50And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.
51While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven
What Jesus is saying in verse 49 is that they must stay in the city until they receive the holy spirit. This particular event is recorded in Acts chapter 2, which says that it took place on the Day of the Pentecost – celebrated 50 days after passover. There isn’t time to go to Galilee! By the time they’re allowed to, Jesus will have already ascended! In case it still isn’t completely clear, let’s just look at the facts:
1. The disciples aren’t allowed to leave the city until they receive the holy spirit (Luke 24:49)
2. The holy spirit doesn’t come to them until the Day of the Pentecost (Acts 2)
3. The Day of the Pentecost doesn’t happen until 50 days later, 10 days after Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1 and 2)
So how in the world would they be able to go to Galilee? This is why a trip to Galilee is never mentioned. It never happened according to Luke. Even without looking at the three facts above, you would have to be lying to yourself to think that these verses aren’t explicitly telling you that they stayed in Jerusalem the whole time only to then travel “as far as” Bethany to see him ascend there. It’s only in attempt to reconcile Luke with Matthew that one has reason to use the terrible excuse of, “He just didn’t mention the trip to Galilee.”
This is worth recapping one final time: in Matthew’s account the disciples are instructed to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee, where they’ll meet up with Jesus for the first time since his resurrection. They do so, and meet him there, where he gives his final instructions to them. In Luke’s account, they are instructed – quite explicitly – not to leave Jerusalem until they “receive the power from on high” (i.e. the Holy Spirit, who was to come to them 50 days later on the Day of the Pentecost, in Acts 2). And so, they only go “as far as” Bethany where Jesus then gives them his final instructions before ascending into heaven. The case rests: did they leave Jerusalem right away to Galilee (Matthew) or not at all (Luke)?
Other events that only occur in one of the Gospels on the Resurrection:
- The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb only occur in Matthew 27:62
- The Angel causing an earthquake and rolling away the tomb only occur in Matthew 28:2
- Jesus appears to the disciples twice only in John, first in 20:19 then again eight days later in 20:26
- Jesus appears at the sea of Tiberias only in John 21:1
- The disciples go out into the world to preach only in Mark 16:20
Below is a table which lays out what each gospel says happened following Jesus’ death. If you compare them side by side according to each event, you’ll see clear contradictions, the best of which are outlined in red (i.e. those which conflict with one another). For a simpler analysis of how the author’s of the gospels give discrepant resurrection traditions, click here to read my discussion of the two most divided gospels, Matthew and Luke.
|Gospel||Who went to Jesus’ tomb?||How was the tomb opened?||Who did they find there?||What were they told?|
|John||Mary Magdalene the first time, bringing Simon Peter and the “other” disciple with her the second time (20:1-3)||It had already been rolled away (20:1)||She saw no one the first time, but then after Simon Peter and the other disciple left, two angels appeared to her inside the temple, sitting on the stone bed (20:12)||She was to tell the disciples that he has risen (20:17)|
|Matthew||Mary Magdalene and another Mary (28:1)||It was rolled away by an angel after a violent earthquake upon the women’s arrival (28:2)||An angel sitting on top of the stone (28:5)||To tell the disciples to “go to Galilee,” where Jesus will meet them (28:7)|
|Mark||Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (16:1)||It had already been rolled away (16:4)||One young man in a “white robe” sitting on the stone bed (16:5)||To tell the disciples to “go to Galilee,” where Jesus will meet them (16:7)|
|Luke||Women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem – possibly Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “other women” (23:55)||It had already been rolled away (24:2)||Two men in bright clothes appeared standing beside them (24:4)||Remember what Jesus had told them “while he was in Galilee,” that he had to die and rise again (24:7)|
|Gospel||Then do the women…||If they tell someone, who do they tell?||What were those told do in response?||How does Jesus appear to the disciples?|
|John||Mary tells disciples what she had seen and heard (20:18)||The disciples (20:18)||Nothing, since Jesus soon appears||He appears the same day that evening “where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews” (20:19)|
|Matthew||Tell what happened (28:8)||The eleven disciples (28:8)||Depart to Galilee (28:16)||On a mountain in Galilee (28:17)|
|Mark||*Not tell anyone (16:8).In the next verse, Jesus appears to Mary, who then does tell the disciples (16:9)||*No one [The disciples]||*They were not told [Do not believe her] (16:11)||*He doesn’t.[He appeared to two of them as they were walking “into the country.” They then told the remainder disciples but again they didn’t believe. Jesus then appeared to all 11 during a meal] (16:12-14)|
|Luke||Tell what happened (24:8)||The eleven disciples and other people (24:8)||Do not believe the women because it seems to be “an idle tale” (24:11)||In Jerusalem (24:33-36). He then took them out to Bethany where he blessed them and lifted up to heaven (24:50-51)|
I have always found these conflicts impossible to reconcile. The so called ” harmony of the Gospels” always seemed like such a stretch of plausibility with circular reasoning employed.