Excerpt from: “Why I am not a Christian” by Keith M. Parsons
A careful study of the four gospels in comparison with each other will show that there is little agreement among the gospel writers as to the order in which Jesus said and did what is reported of him. John depicts him as cleansing the Temple at the outset of his public ministry; in the other three gospels, the incident occurs at the end of his career. Sayings placed at the opening of his teaching ministry by Luke are located toward the end of it by Matthew. The nearest we can come to an outline of Jesus’ public life is the one offered by Mark and followed with some modifications by Matthew and Luke. John goes his own way in complete independence of the other three gospels. But Mark’s outline is not really much help, since a close analysis of Mark shows that the framework is contributed by Mark himself, and was not part of the tradition he received. Almost all the chronological and geographical references in Mark are vague or even artificial in nature. The tradition reached Mark in the form of independent story or saying units; Mark arranged them on his own narrative line. As someone has expressed it, Mark began his gospel writing with only a heap of unstrung pearls (Kee, Young, and Froelich, 1965, p. 59).
A striking discrepancy concerns the accounts in the synoptics of Jesus’s resurrection appearances to his disciples. Matthew, following hints by Mark, sites in Galilee the one appearance to them that he records: the risen one has instructed the women at the empty tomb to tell the disciples to go to Galilee in order to see him (28:10). They do this, and his appearance to them there concludes the gospel. In Luke, however, he appears to them on Easter day in Jerusalem and nearby on the Emmaus road eighty miles from Galilee) and tells them to stay in the city “until ye be clothed with power from on high” (24:49). Acts 2:1-4 represents this as happening at Pentecost, some fifty days later). They obey, and were “continually in the temple” (24:53). Luke has very pointedly changed what is said in Mark so as to site these appearances in the city. (Luke omits Mark 14:28), “after I am raised up I will go before you into Galilee”; and he replaces Mark 16:7, “he goeth before you into Galilee” with a message which deletes any such suggestion.
[J.W.] Montgomery harmonized the accounts by arguing that the risen Jesus could have moved from Galilee to Jerusalem in a series of appearances spread, according to Acts 1:3, over forty days. This hypothesis does not reconcile the movements of the disciples—immediately to Galilee in Matthew, and not beyond Jerusalem and its environs in Luke. All the forty-day appearances of Acts are sited in Jerusalem (1:4). Nor does Montgomery’s proposal account for Luke’s deliberate alteration of the Marcan material, effected so as to bring it into line with a theological principle of great importance to him, namely that Christianity had not broken lightly or readily from its Jewish foundation: It is for this that he insists that it was “beginning from Jerusalem” that the Christian mission went forward to “all the nations” (Luke 24:47), so that the disciples tarried there and did not return to Galilee (Wells, 1996, pp. 100-101).