Why Do The Gospels Have Different Accounts of the Resurrection?

In Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary rose up at dawn to go and balm the dead body of Jesus because they couldn’t do it the evening he died, which was the Sabbath. They went to meet a mighty angel sitting on the rolled stone. The angel told them to go and tell the rest of the disciples, and that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee. In their joy and fright, they meet Jesus along the way. Jesus also echoes and affirms the angel’s report.

In Mark, it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome who rose up at dawn to go and anoint Jesus’ body. They were contemplating on how they’d roll the stone away. When they got there, the stone had been rolled away and an angel was sitting on the right side. Trembling and bewildered, the women left and told no one anything because they were afraid. Then Jesus appeared to only Mary Magdalene, who went to tell the rest of the disciples about the Resurrection. Jesus appeared to two other disciples and later appeared to the Eleven.

In Luke, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and some other women took their spices and went to the tomb and arrived right after sunrise. They found the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Suddenly, two men appeared. The angel told them to remember the words of Jesus concerning His Resurrection, which they did. They came back to tell the other disciples but they didn’t believe. So Peter run back to check for himself and met an empty tomb and went away, wondering what had happened. On that same day, Jesus appeared to the two disciples Mark talked about, on the road to Emmaus.

In John, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. So she went running to Simon Peter and John, complaining that Jesus’ body had been stolen. So Peter and John run to the tomb. They both found the tomb empty, with the cloth and linen lying there. They went away. Mary Magdalene still stayed, crying. She bent over to look in the tomb and saw two angels in white. They only asked her why she was crying. After replying, she turned and saw Jesus but didn’t recognize Him, thinking he was the gardener. Jesus mentioned her name again and she finally recognized Him. Jesus spoke to her and she ran to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord.

Before I go on, it is necessary to point out that each of the Gospel writers had a clear purpose and emphasis set out to accentuate a specific and special image of Jesus. Therefore, each detail they add or didn’t add was because of what they want to emphasize.

At least five women went to the tomb since Luke names three of them and then says “other women” went too (at least two). Notice that Matthew does not say that only two women were there. Mark does not say that only three women were there. They simply focus on the women they name. They arose while it was still dark according to John and reached the tomb right after sunrise.

Prior to their arrival, Matthew tells us that there was a great earthquake, for an angel descended and rolled back the stone and sat on it. The women were contemplating how they’d roll the stone but went and saw it removed. There were two angels. Neither Matthew nor Mark claims that only one angel was at the tomb. The complete number does not appear in their accounts and clearly wasn’t the emphasis of the story.

Apparently, Mary Magdalene left the other women to alert Peter and John. Based on her comment about not knowing the location of the Lord’s body, it seems that she was not among the women who encountered the angels at the tomb.

Meanwhile, the other women entered the tomb and encountered the angels. Mary Magdalene first left the tomb and entered nearby Jerusalem to get Peter and John. During that time, the other women encountered the angels and then left the tomb to set out on the two-mile trip to Bethany to tell the other disciples about the Resurrection. They may have stopped along the way to tell Clopas and an unnamed disciple about the morning’s events (Luke 24:22–24), or they may have split up so that a couple of them could inform these men. In all likelihood, “the wife of Clopas” was among these women (John 19:25).

Meanwhile, Peter, John, and Mary raced to the tomb. The men entered the tomb, saw the grave clothes, and then left. Mary stayed behind, weeping outside the tomb. When she looked into the tomb, she saw two angels (John 20:12), and after explaining her grief to them, she turned around and saw the Savior (John 20:16). After Mary departed to tell Peter and John about seeing the risen Lord, Jesus appeared to the other women who were on their way to Bethany (Matthew 28:9).

The remaining appearances of Christ on that day are much easier to follow. Luke wrote about Clopas and a companion meeting the Lord while they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them (Luke 24:30–31). They immediately returned to Jerusalem to share the good news of the Resurrection with the disciples, without Thomas (John 20:19–24). Upon their arrival, they were told by the disciples that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34; see also 1 Corinthians 15:5).

So you see, the entire story fits like a jigsaw puzzle. As a learner, don’t be too quick to draw conclusions. If you are always quick to draw conclusions, you won’t learn anything. Wait for the story to unfold before your eyes. The fact that someone’s account is different from the other doesn’t mean one is true and the others aren’t. Though they all went into different details to expatriate the Resurrection story, the whole story comes together to tell one big true and eternal story: Jesus has Risen.

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