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resurrection inconsistencies

Critics of Jesus’ resurrection focus on the inconsistencies in the New Testament accounts.

Believers equate those differences to the perspective of different witnesses. Imagine an auto collision in an intersection with witnesses located on each of the four corners of that intersection. Each witness would see the collision somewhat differently.

Christianity focuses upon the striking similarities of the four New Testament accounts: the open and empty tomb, women witnesses, the presence and message of angels, disbelieving male disciples, and most importantly unexpected and sporadic appearances of Jesus.

While the four Gospels agree that women discovered the empty tomb, they record different accounts of what they experienced. However, most perceived inconsistencies fade when readers remember three facts:
  1. Precise time-keeping did not exist.
  2. Telecommunication did not exist.
  3. How many women went to the tomb is unknowable.

What follows is my suggested sequence of events of Resurrection Sunday.

Women who witnessed Jesus’ burial planned to visit His tomb Sunday morning—after Sabbath ended. (
Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim writes it was customary for 1st century Jewish mourners to re-enter a tomb for 2-3 days.)

Some women hurried off to buy burial ointments before Sabbath shuddered the markets. Others who lingered near Jesus’ tomb, bought ointments after sundown Saturday.

Before streetlights or flashlights, once daylight faded activity was limited to what might be accomplished by moonlight or the smoky glow of olive oil lanterns. Walking even a well-traveled road in the dark could produce bloodied toes or worse. So it was not until Sunday morning that separate groups of women lodging in various parts of Jerusalem trekked diverse routes to Jesus’ tomb. Perhaps word had spread of a Sunday morning gathering at the tomb, prompting additional women to participate.

Without clocks the women could not have set a precise time to meet at Jesus’ tomb. For some, sunrise meant first light—for others it meant when the sun was above the horizon. New Testament writers report some women began their trek in the predawn dusk.

The first small group of women approached the garden tomb with the first rays of the sun. Before they arrived an earthquake struck. Then an angel appeared and rolled away the stone blocking the tomb’s entrance. So menacing was this alien being that the guard, stationed to prevent Jesus’ followers from stealing the body, cowered in fear. They soon recovered and fled.

Before the first group of women arrived, this angel entered the tomb. Discovering the tomb opened, the women entered and were alarmed by an angel announcing that the crucified Jesus had risen. Having found the tomb empty—no body, but no risen Jesus—the stunned, panicked and confused women rushed back to Jerusalem, initially saying nothing to anyone.

A second group of women soon arrived at the tomb, ignorant that a first group had already come and gone. The angel, too, was not to be seen. Entering they found Jesus’ body gone. Overcome with emotion Mary Magdalene broke away from the group and ran back to Jerusalem to report the news.

The remaining women, stunned and bewildered, speculated about the empty tomb. Suddenly, two angels appeared (Matthew and Mark identify only the speaking angel). Awestruck, they bow before the angels, who instruct the women to go and tell Jesus’ disciples that he has risen.

Confused, fearful, yet full of joy, the women rush out of the tomb and nearly ran over Jesus, who was wandering about the garden. He greeted the women, calmed their fears and instructed them to inform his disciples.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene, who’d run away from the second group before the angels or Jesus appeared, located Peter and John. She could tell them only what she knew: Jesus’ body was missing. Peter and John rushed to the tomb, Mary trailing behind. However, before the two men got to the tomb the second group of women left area, as had Jesus and the angels.

John outran Peter but didn’t go into the tomb. Looking in he saw grave clothes but no body. When Peter arrived he ran straight inside. Following Peter into the tomb, John experienced an epiphany; Jesus had risen from death. Peter, not so much.

While Peter and John are in the tomb Mary Magdalene arrived a second time. She stayed outside weeping, remaining after Peter and John separately departed. At some point she looked into the tomb and saw two angels. The angels, knowing Jesus was alive, ask why she's weeping. Without processing who is questioning her and ignorant of Jesus’ resurrection, Mary explains that she is looking for her teacher’s dead body.

Then desperately looking around the garden Mary saw Jesus standing nearby, but didn’t recognize him. Did he look different? Could her mind not comprehend Jesus alive? Regardless, Mary assumes Jesus is a gardener until he speaks her name. Overjoyed, Mary clings to Jesus until he sends her to inform his disciples.

Before Mary reported to the disciples having met the risen Jesus, the second group of women reported their own encounter with Jesus. By Sunday afternoon all the women who went to the tomb were reporting what they had seen, and learning what others had experienced.

That night two disciples reported having met the risen Jesus on a road leaving Jerusalem. As everyone was talking and listening and trying to comprehend what had happened, the risen Jesus himself suddenly appeared among them. ~

Jesus is Risen!
Dan Nygaard