Confused about the accounts of the Resurrection? I can understand that. When you put the Resurrection accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John side-by-side, you will notice discrepancies. But these are apparent, and not actual discrepancies. Let me explain…
In The God Who is Love, I wrote about several of the events God used to shape my life. It was impossible to include every event; and even for those I shared, I felt the need, from time to time, to streamline the story. Some details weren’t needed to reach my point; and I felt that, had I included them, they would have weighed the story down unnecessarily. (Readers want something that reads smoothly – not a story constantly interrupted to fill in this or that detail or piece of background information.) Everything I shared was true; but they were not exhaustive accounts. It gave me a new appreciation for the way the four Gospels narrate the same events from Jesus’ life in different ways.
Looking at the four accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection, I would like to suggest a chronology for the events of Easter morning that, if kept in the back of your mind, will resolve the apparent discrepancies. In a nutshell, I think that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb that morning went back and forth between it and the Apostles more than once:
1. Jesus rose from the dead.
2. The guards outside the tomb fled.
3. The women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and one or more un-named women) arrived at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ Body, but found it empty.
4. The women ran to the apostles to alert them that someone had stolen the Body.
5. Peter and John raced to the tomb, saw the grave wrappings, and left.
6. The women returned to the tomb and saw angels inside. The angels announced Jesus’ Resurrection.
7. The women were frightened by the angels’ appearance but (possibly after a delay) set out to carry the announcement to the apostles, when Jesus appeared to them.
8. The women reported all of this to the apostles but were not believed.
9/10 Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He also appeared to Peter.
11. Jesus appeared to the apostles and disciples gathered in the upper room.
Each of the gospel writers streamlined these events in different ways – omitted one or more of the numbered events, or omitted one or more characters (human and angelic) in their telling of an event. The accounts do not disagree with each other, but each is fragmentary. None of the gospels claim to give an exhaustive account. Quite to the contrary; John’s Gospel plainly says, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn.20:30-31).
If you find yourself asking questions as you listen to the Gospel readings at this time of year, see if these eleven points prove helpful. I would of course love to hear your thoughts about my attempt at reconstructing the sequence of events. Let’s put our heads together in the combox.