Since this blog was inspired by the work of the late Farrell Till, this article will be based upon and build upon an article of his in The Skeptical Review, titled "The Resurrection Maze". Till rightfully noted an important rule in critical thinking as it applied to the resurrection stories:
"When two or more statements contradict one another, they cannot all be right. If we apply this rule of evidence to the testimony of the "eyewitnesses" to the resurrection, we have to conclude that at least some of the testimony was erroneous. If some of it was erroneous, then the Bible inerrancy doctrine itself must be erroneous."
After stating this, Till didn't do an exhaustive analysis of the New Testament's resurrection stories but limited his article to just a few. I will quote from most of his article and the sections I quote from will appear in blue, with my comments scattered in between. I begin with Till:
Inconsistencies in the four gospel accounts of the resurrection are too numerous to discuss in a single article, so I will limit discussion at this time to just a few. Matthew began his narrative of the events of that day by telling us that Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to the sepulcher "as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week" (28:1). The time factor that he identified contrasts sharply with the testimony of Mark, Luke, and John, who said, respectively, that the time was "very early on the first day of the week... when the sun was risen" (16:1) or "on the first day of the week, at early dawn" (24:1) or "on the first day of the week... while it was yet dark" (20:1). By stretching imagination, perhaps we could reconcile the testimony of Matthew and Luke. If it was "beginning to dawn toward the first day of the week," we could maybe grant that this could be called "early dawn," but how could the sun already be risen if it was only beginning to dawn? And if the sun had already risen, as Mark claimed, how could it have been "yet dark," as John said? For that matter, how could it have been "yet dark" if the morning had reached any stage that could be correctly described as "dawn"? I grew up on a farm, so I can remember getting up many times as it was "beginning to dawn" or while it was still "early dawn," but it certainly wasn't "yet dark." By looking outside, I could see clearly enough to recognize objects. Certainly by the time the sun had risen, it was never "yet dark" outside. So how could it possibly be that John was right in the time factor that he specified but the other three were also right in their time factors? This is a chronological discrepancy that bibliolaters have never satisfactorily explained.
I suspect that Till is right here. Inerrantists will come up with all kinds of imaginative scenarios to explain the time differences in all four gospels. How could it be "still dark" outside and yet the sun had risen? It could be "still dark" and it was beginning to dawn, sure. But beginning to dawn isn't the same thing as the sun having already risen. If the sun already rose, that would be the conclusion of dawn, not the beginning. And if it was still dark, obviously, the sun hasn't risen. However, I want to note that the time differences here aren't the biggest or worst discrepancies. But it does make me skeptical that the postmortem stories are based on eyewitness accounts, whether from human memory, divine inspiration, or a mixture of both. Till continued:
As noted, Matthew said that Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to the tomb. Mark identified the women as "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome" (16:1). Luke said that the women who went to the tomb were "Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them" (24:10), and John mentioned only Mary Magdalene (20:1). We have all heard the Gleason Archer-John Haley type of explanation for the "variances" in these names. Matthew chose to identify only two of the women, John chose to identify only one, but their failure to mention the presence of Salome or Joanna or "the other women" would not mean that they were not there. The same line of reasoning is usually applied to the variations in the number of angels reported at the scene. Matthew said that "an angel" (one) descended from heaven (28:2). Mark spoke of "a young man... arrayed in a white robe" (16:5), who was presumably an angel, but Luke (24:4) and John (20:12) wrote of two angels. If there were two, then there had to be one, inerrantists will say, but in a matter as vitally important as the testimony to a resurrection, inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, this kind of "explanation" has dubious merit at best. However, it is the stock explanation of inerrancy defenders in matters like these, so I will simply mention it, leave it to the readers to judge its merit, and go on to other discrepancies that no stretch of imagination can satisfactorily resolve.
Actually, I will note something that Till had never considered. The chief guru of biblical inerrancy alive, today, is probably Norman Geisler. I have seen Geisler use the "if-there-was-two, then-there-was-one" explanation. This has got to be the lamest "explanation" that I have ever seen from an apologist. Why is it so lame?
The reason is simple: saying that if there were two, there was at least one, is only true if a text explicitly mentions more than one! If Luke says that there were two angels present, then by necessity, there had to be at least one but that is only true, logically, if the text explicitly states that there was more than one. Suppose that Mark's gospel said that only one angel was present and Luke said that there were two. Geisler's explanation would be correct with regards to a text like we find in Luke's gospel but if Mark says that there was only one angel present, a discrepancy would still exist! The problem is that people like the late Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler haven't thought this nonsense through!
I don't regard the number of women problematic. Matthew mentions two, Luke mentions several, and Mark mentions three. None of them say that the women who they mention are the only ones who went to the tomb so I see these as variants that are not discrepant in nature. However, I will say one thing, though. Matthew and Mark only mention one person who greeted the women. In Mark, it's a "young man" who was wearing a "white robe" while Matthew identifies him as an angel. Luke explicitly states that there were two angels in the tomb.
Okay, so what? Well, according to Matthew 28, the one angel mentioned seemed to imply that only one angel was there. Take a look at Matthew 28: 1-7 (NASB):
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “]Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”
Notice that in verse 5, the angel speaks in first person singular. If two angels were present, why didn't the angel say "Do not be afraid, for we know that you are looking for Jesus who had been crucified". The use of first person singular indicates that one person was present; granted, it's not explicitly stated that only one angel was present but it makes the best explanation for the first person singular. To understand why, consider John's postmortem story of Jesus. In John 20: 1-2 ( NASB):
Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again (24:5-7).As noted in an earlier article, Luke said that the women, upon hearing this, "remembered his words" (v:8). Although Matthew didn't specifically say that the women remembered the words of Jesus that the angel reminded them of, he certainly implied that they did, because he immediately said that the women "departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word" (28:8). This is essentially what Luke said too. After saying that the women "remembered his (Jesus's) words," he said that the women "returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest" (24:9).
Now if the women "ran to bring his disciples word," as Matthew said, and if they "told all these things to the eleven," as Luke claimed, then surely they told the eleven about the angel (angels?) and what he (they?) had told them. In other words, Matthew's and Luke's versions of the resurrection story both present the women at the tomb as ones who had been informed about the resurrection and convinced that it had occurred before they ran to tell the disciples what they had seen.
One would never guess this, however, by just reading John's version. John was the one who chose to mention only the presence of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and he said that Mary, upon seeing the stone taken away from the tomb, ran and told Simon Peter and "the other disciple" (20:2). She did this before seeing the angels, because it wasn't until after she had returned to the tomb that she saw the angels (vv:11-13). So when John's Mary ran to Peter and the other disciples, did she run with the "great joy" that Matthew mentioned? And did she tell the disciples "all these things" that Luke said the angels had told them? Apparently no, according to John's story! When John's Mary found the disciples, she said, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him" (20:2). Obviously, there was no "joy" in what she was saying here. She was quite distressed.
More perplexing than that, however, is the fact that John's Mary believed that the body of Jesus had been stolen from the tomb. Why would she have thought that IF she had seen angels at the tomb (as Matthew, Mark, and Luke claimed), who had reminded her of Jesus's promise to rise again on the third day, and especially IF she had "remembered his words" after the angels had jogged her memory? Obviously, John was not aware of any prior contact that Mary had had with angels or of any assurances she had received from angels that Jesus had been resurrected. His Mary was a distraught woman who, at the time of her report to Peter and "the other disciple," had no idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. Even after she returned to the tomb with Peter and the other disciple, she still thought that the body of Jesus had been stolen, because the angels that she encountered this time inside the tomb asked her why she was crying, and she said, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (Jn. 20:13). But why would she have thought that at this time IF prior to going to get Peter an angel or angels had told her, "He is risen" (Mt. 28:6; Mk. 16:6; Lk. 24:6)?
Till was absolutely correct. He illustrated here a serious discrepancy between the synoptics and John. According to the synoptics, Mary Magdalene and anyone with her went tomb, found it empty, were visited by angel (s), and then ran to the disciples to deliver the angelic message. According to John's gospel, this didn't happen. When Mary Magdalene and whoever was with her, went to tell Peter and the other disciple that they had taken the body of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and whoever was with her didn't know where the body was. This is a discrepancy that no inerrantist has ever successfully resolved. Till continued:
Gleason Archer, in his typically far-fetched style, has offered this answer to the question:
She apparently had not yet taken in the full import of what the angel meant when he told her that the Lord had risen again and that He was alive. In her confusion and amazement, all she could think of was that the body was not there; and she did not know what had become of it. Where could that body now be? It was for this reason that she wanted Peter and John to go back there and see what they could find out (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 348-349).That sounds pretty thin to me, but inerrantists are famous for this kind of circumlocution when they are confronted with obvious discrepancies in the Bible text. Luke flatly stated that the women at the tomb, who would have included Mary Magdalene, "remembered his (Jesus's) words" when the angels reminded them that Jesus had predicted his resurrection while they were "yet in Galilee" (24:7-8). Despite the clarity of this statement, Archer wants us to believe that the obvious discrepancy between it and John's depiction of Mary in his resurrection story was only "apparent," because she "had not yet taken in the full import of what the angel meant when he told her the Lord had risen again." As an explanation of the problem, it is too transparent to deserve serious comment. What "full import" was there to take in? The angels said, "He is risen," as he had promised while he was "yet in Galilee," and the women "remembered his words"!
Till is right once again. Archer's explanation was absolute nonsense. Archer was no idiot and was quite educated. With someone so educated and articulate, you have to wonder if they are intellectually honest! Anyone who is highly educated yet espouses nonsense like this deserves to have his (or her) intellectual integrity called into question.
While yet in her state of confusion about what had happened, John's Mary encountered Jesus by the tomb--and didn't even recognize him! She thought that he was the gardener (20:14-15). So we are supposed to believe that angels had some time prior to this told her that Jesus was not "here," that "he is risen," as he had said would happen while he was "yet in Galilee," and that she had "remembered his words," but when finally she came face to face with the risen Jesus at the empty tomb, she didn't even know who he was. If a missionary preaching a religion we had not grown up with should come into our country with a story as inconsistent as this, who would believe it?
But it gets even worse. Mary's encounter with Jesus at the tomb in John's version clearly happened after Mary had found the stone rolled away and had run to tell Peter and had returned to the tomb, but this runs completely contrary to Matthew's version of an encounter with Jesus near the burial site. Matthew said that the women, upon receiving instructions from the angel (just one) to go tell the disciples that Jesus would go before them into Galilee, "departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word" (28:7-8). But look at what Matthew then said:
And behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then saith Jesus unto them, Fear not: go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me (28:9).Perhaps Jesus thought that the angel's message had not been clear enough, so he made an appearance himself to tell the women the same thing the angel had just said to them. Maybe he knew what he was doing too. A person as confused as Gleason Archer's Mary Magdalene would probably have to be given a message like this at least twice before she would understand it. At any rate, Matthew said that the women met the risen Jesus as they were running to tell the disciples that an angel had told them to meet Jesus in Galilee, and this flatly contradicts John's version. John said that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after she had fetched the disciples and returned to the tomb. Before any inerrantist tries to tiptoe around this problem by claiming that John's failure to mention an encounter with Jesus while Mary was running to get Peter doesn't mean that such an encounter did not occur, let him explain why Mary didn't recognize him in the garden if she had already seen him before this and had even taken "hold of his feet and worshipped him" (Matt. 28:9). She had done all of this on the way into town but now back at the tomb again she wasn't even able to recognize Jesus! If I may resort to slang for just a moment, come on, give me a break!
The holding of Jesus's feet mentioned by Matthew poses yet another problem, for when John's Mary finally recognized Jesus at the tomb, he specifically forbade her to touch him: "Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended unto the Father" (20:17). What ascending to the Father would have to do with a restriction on touching Jesus is anybody's guess (I just read the scriptures; I didn't write them), but Jesus plainly stated this as a reason why Mary should not touch him. Yet, in Matthew's story, when the women, who would have included Mary, met Jesus on the way to "bring the disciples word," they "took hold of his feet and worshipped him." Now if they took hold of his feet, then they surely touched him. How else could they have taken hold of his feet? But at this encounter Jesus said nothing about not touching him, even though at this time he had most certainly "not yet ascended unto the Father." How could he have done so, since this encounter happened as the women were running into town to find the disciples, and the encounter with Mary, when Jesus told her he had not yet ascended, happened after she had found the disciples and had returned to the tomb?
The encounter with Jesus as the women were running into town raises yet another problem. Matthew plainly said that after the women "departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy" (28:8), they met Jesus and "took hold of his feet and worshipped him" (v:9). Now if the women met Jesus and worshipped him, they surely recognized him and realized that he had been resurrected. Why then did Mary say what she said when she found Peter and the other disciple? "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him" (Jn. 20:2). I earlier noted that this statement made no sense at all in light of what Matthew, Mark, and Luke said that the angel(s) told the women at the tomb and what Luke specifically said the women "remembered," but now that we know that the women, on the way into town to find the disciples, encountered Jesus, touched him, and worshipped him, Mary's statement to Peter goes beyond making no sense. It becomes an insult to the intelligence of all rational people who are asked to believe in the resurrection despite glaring discrepancies like this.
I don't know if I agree with Till on this point so far. I agree with Till up to this last paragraph just quoted. The problem is that there is a somewhat new development in biblical Greek studies known as "Verbal Aspect Theory" and if it is correct, then the Greek word for "departed/left" in Matthew 28: 8 is to be understood as a completed action, without interruption. If so, then it would seem that the women left the tomb uninterrupted and then went to the disciples of Jesus. Then, Matthew 28:9 narrates something that occurred later. This would mean that quite a number of translations such as the King James, New Living Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, New English Translation, Darby, and Webster's are all wrong for all of them translate this verse as explicitly saying that Jesus met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they were leaving the tomb to tell his disciples.
Lastly, I quote this from Till's article:
Juxtaposed and considered as a single story, the four resurrection accounts form a veritable maze of contradictions. So once again I must remind readers of the rule of evidence that says falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything). When alleged witnesses to an event contradict themselves as flagrantly as did the four gospel writers in their accounts of the resurrection, everything that they said must be viewed with suspicion. These writers claimed that a man who was physically dead returned to life. A claim that extraordinary requires extraordinary proof, but there is certainly nothing extraordinary in the resurrection testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is so riddled with inconsistencies that no one but the hopelessly credulous could possibly believe it.
Till is correct but there are more discrepancies. For instance, Matthew and Mark contradict Luke and John. Matthew and Mark place the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Galilee. Luke and John place the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Jerusalem. This can be demonstrated to any inerrantist who desires evidence for this. In Luke's gospel, Jesus appears to eleven of his disciples (Luke 24: 8-10) while in John's gospel, one of the eleven, Thomas is absent ( John 20: 19-25). So did Jesus appear to eleven of his disciples ("doubting Thomas" included)? Or did he appear to only ten of his disciples? These are two discrepancies that Till never discussed in his article but they do exist and can be demonstrated to be such.
At any rate, Till was (mostly) right. The gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection form a maze of discrepancies. If all of them, taken together, disagree with each other on so many details, at least one or more of them are mistaken. If one or more of them are mistaken, then we don't have amazing harmony from cover to cover in the entire Bible.