Why are there so many Discrepancies in the Resurrection Stories of the Four Gospels?

Let’s take a look at the four Resurrection Stories in the four Gospels in parallel (side-by-side).

 

Who came to the Tomb that Sunday morning:

Mark: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome

Matthew:  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

Luke:  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and other women

John:  Mary Magdalene

 

At what time did the Women set out/arrive at the Tomb:

Mark:  They went to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Matthew:  They went to see the tomb as the day was dawning.

Luke:  They came to the tomb at early dawn.

John:  Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark.

 

What was the position of the Stone when the Women arrived at the Tomb?

Mark:  The stone had already been rolled back when they arrived.

Matthew:  An angel rolls back the stone in the presence of the women and the guards and then sits on it.

Luke:  The stone had already been rolled away when they arrived.

John:  The stone had been removed from the tomb when Mary Magdalene arrived.

 

Who else was at the Tomb when the women arrive?

Mark:  A young man, sitting inside the tomb, dressed in a white robe.

Matthew:  Roman guards and an angel who descends from heaven, rolls back the stone, and sits on it.  His appearance is like lightning, his clothing white as snow.

Luke:  Two men suddenly appear next to the women inside the tomb.  They are dressed in dazzling clothes.

John:  No one!  Not initially.  Only after Mary Magdalene has reported the Empty Tomb to the disciples and the disciples have come to inspect the Empty Tomb and have found only the linen wrappings…and have then left…do we find Mary alone at the tomb again, but this time Mary looks into the tomb and sees two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

 

Does any natural disaster accompany the rolling back of the stone?

Mark:  none mentioned.

Matthew:  a “great” earthquake.

Luke:  none mentioned.

John:  none mentioned.

 

What does the young man/angel/men/angels say to the women/Mary?

Mark:  Don’t be alarmed.  Jesus has been raised.  Tell the disciples that they will see him in Galilee.

Matthew:  Don’t be afraid.  Jesus has been raised.  Tell the disciples that they will see him in Galilee.

Luke:  Jesus is not here.  He is risen.  Remember that he told you he would rise again on the third day. (Nothing about meeting Jesus in Galilee.)

John:  Woman, why are you weeping?  (That’s it!)

 

Does Jesus appear to the Women in the Garden, and if he does, what does he say to them?

(original) Mark:  No.  There are no post-resurrection appearances by Jesus to anyone!

Matthew:  Yes.  Jesus greets the women; allows them to touch him; and tells them to tell his “brothers’ to meet him in Galilee.

Luke:  No.  No appearances by Jesus to the women in the Garden.

John:  Yes, but only to Mary Magdalene.  Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after she has told the disciples about the Empty Tomb; after two of the disciples have come and inspected the tomb; and after she has been asked by two angels sitting inside the tomb why she is weeping.  Jesus asks Mary the same question, “Why are you weeping?  Whom are you looing for”  Mary supposes Jesus to be the gardener and tells him that someone has taken the body of Jesus.  Mary asks “the gardener” to tell her where the body is so that she can take it.  Jesus says her name and Mary recognizes that “the gardener” is Jesus himself.  Jesus orders her not to touch him because he hasn’t ascended to the Father yet. (But Matthew’s Jesus lets the women touch him.  Strange!)

 

When is Mary Magdalene informed that Jesus has been Resurrected?  Before she runs and tells the Disciples that the Tomb is empty or after?

Mark:  Before

Matthew:  Before

Luke:  Before

John:  After

 

Where, to Whom, and When, does Jesus first Appear to his Male Disciples:

(original) Mark:  No appearances mentioned.

Matthew:  On a mountain in Galilee, a mountain Jesus had instructed them in advance on which to meet him.  To the Eleven.  We are not told when.

Luke:  The Road to Emmaus.  Jesus appears to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, one of them is named Cleopas.  Jesus then appears to the “Eleven” in Jerusalem.  Both of these appearances occurred on the same day as the Resurrection.

John:  Where:  in “the house where the disciples had met”; Jesus appears to “the disciples” but Thomas is not present (so if all the other members of the original Twelve, minus Judas Iscariot, were present, that would be ten of the original disciples, not eleven as Luke claims); When:  the same day as the Resurrection.

 

How does each Gospel end?

(original) Mark:  The women run away from the Empty Tomb in great fear and tell NO ONE.

Matthew:  Jesus gives the Great Commission to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee.  No mention of an Ascension.

Luke:  Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they have been clothed with the power from on high (Pentecost?), takes them out to Bethany, lifts up his hands, blesses them, and is carried up into heaven.

John:  If you believe that chapter 20 is the true ending of the Gospel of John then this Gospels ends with Thomas poking his fingers in Jesus wounds and Jesus making the statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  If you believe that the Gospel of John ends with chapter 21, then this Gospel ends with Jesus cooking a fish breakfast for a group of the disciples along the shores of the Sea of Tiberius.  No mention of an Ascension.

 

Discussion:  Isn’t it obvious, folks?  Just as the consensus of modern New Testament scholarship tells us, these accounts weren’t written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses!  They are tall tales.  As each writer wrote his story, he added new embellishments to a previous version of this tale.  For all we know, the first Gospel author, Mark, invented the Empty Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Notice that the original version of the Gospel of Mark had no post-death appearance stories.  So isn’t it probable that a decade or so later, the authors of Matthew and Luke invented their post-death appearance stories, adding them to “Mark’s” invented Tomb story?  Matthew invented his appearances in Galilee and Luke invented his appearances in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions of Judea (Emmaus and Bethany).   Then near the close of the first century, the author of the Gospel of John invented an entirely new version of the story, based on the boiler plate version he probably grew up hearing in church.

Yes, Jesus existed.  Yes, Jesus was crucified.  Yes, Jesus was probably buried somewhere.  But the Resurrection stories (plural!) are tall tales.  They are not historical.  They are legends.  They are fiction!  Reading the four resurrection stories in parallel is obvious proof.

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Why are there so many Discrepancies in the Resurrection Stories of the Four Gospels?

    1. No. They aren’t lying. The are simply making the same assumptions that the person in the pew is making:

      -That eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.
      -That the Gospel of Mark was written before 70 AD, so Jesus really did prophesy the destruction of the Temple, proving he was God.
      -That eyewitnesses were alive when the Gospels were written and therefore able to proofread the Gospels for errors.
      -That Paul really did see a resurrected body on the Damascus Road.
      -That Peter, James, and Paul compared their sightings of the same resurrected body of Jesus during Paul’s two week stay in Jerusalem.

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      1. This is true in so many areas of the faith. Leaders and believers alike simply accept the “stories” that have been passed down by the generations before them. Few actually investigate the discrepancies (in fact, most aren’t even aware there are any!). So much easier to wash, rinse, repeat.

        Have enjoyed your comments on Nate’s blog. We think quite a bit alike. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You are absolutely right, Nan. They assume that the reason we skeptics don’t believe is that we are God-haters, not that there is good evidence that their belief system is a house of cards.

          Thanks for your comments!

          Liked by 2 people

  1. You would make your case stronger by narowing things down to only contradictions.
    Eg. In discrepancy n. 1, John never says Mary was the only woman at the tomb. So there is no contradiction.

    Rex says,
    Today, Bill went to a Chinese restaurant

    Todd says,
    Today, Bill, Susan, and others went to a Chinese restaurant.

    There is no contradiction. Maybe Rex only wanted to focus on Bill in his narrative.

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    1. discrepancy: a lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more facts.
      contradiction: a combination of statements, ideas, or features of a situation that are opposed to one another.

      I see a discrepancy in the fact that Mary Magdalene is the only woman mentioned in “John’s” entire Resurrection story, but I don’t see it as a contradiction. It is possible that a book writer interested in writing a sellable book would focus on just one woman, but I find it hard to believe that a man whose goal is to perpetuate the Gospel would do so. Possible, but not probable…in my humble, non-scholarly opinion. 🙂

      Another example: It is not a contradiction that the author of Luke has the two men (angels??) who suddenly appear next to the women in the Tomb say not one word about Jesus’ instruction for the male disciples to meet him in Galilee even though the young man in Mark and the angel in Matthew expressly give such an instruction. It is also not a contradiction that there is no mention in the Gospel of Luke of any appearances in Galilee. However, I would say that both of these situations are discrepancies. I believe that these facts indicate that the author of Luke had no knowledge of any appearance stories in Galilee. I would also say that the author of Matthew had no knowledge of any appearances to the male disciples in Judea.

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  2. ISSUE #1:
    Regarding those kinds of discrepancies, ie. textual silences, one of the biggest, most interesting issues is why Mark would write a gospel and leave out important parts like the resurrection. Mark definitely leaves the audience thinking that Jesus showed up after the resurrection. The apostles ended up going back to Galilee like John 21 says, so some people even thought John 21 is the missing ending of Mark 21, although I don’t. I just think John 21 helps understand where Mark was going with his ending to the story.

    It’s like Mark was writing something like the Diatessaron, which was a combination of the 4 gospels, except Mark’s gospel goes the opposite way and copies Matthew and Luke and leaves out the parts where Matthew and Luke disagree. That is, the discrepancies in Mark’s case were made because there was disagreement in the earlier texts (Matthew and Luke).

    ISSUE #2:
    (((Another example: It is not a contradiction that the author of Luke has the two men (angels??) who suddenly appear next to the women in the Tomb say not one word about Jesus’ instruction for the male disciples to meet him in Galilee even though the young man in Mark and the angel in Matthew expressly give such an instruction. It is also not a contradiction that there is no mention in the Gospel of Luke of any appearances in Galilee. However, I would say that both of these situations are discrepancies. )))

    The issue I see here in what you listed is not one of discrepances. Rather it looks like Luke 24 changed what Matthew 28 said about meeting the disciples in Galilee into Jesus having told them in Galilee about meeting him.
    I can see that Luke for his purposes considered it unimportant to narrate an appearance in Galilee if he was going to talk first about the one in Jerusalem, but why change what the angel said or even mention Galilee at all?
    It’s strange, as if he was “correcting” what Matthew had to say about the angel’s words.

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    1. There are some real contradictions and other problems in the resurrection account, like where Jesus in Mk 16 says surviving snakebites and surviving poison drinking are signs following Christians. I am not sure most mainstream Christians would talk like that today apart from quoting the Bible about it.

      It’s like the story of the Soviet WWII pilot who fell 100’s or 1000’s of feet from his plane and survived. If he was a Christian, would that make it a sign? I think some Christians would cite his survival as a sign. I don’t know his religion though. A lot of Soviet people were in fact nonreligious or atheists.

      I do think religion helps people survive (eg placebo effect). But statistically, how much more likely is a believing Christian likely to survive the same amount of poison as a nonChristian theist (eg. Muslim or Hindu)?

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  3. “Notice that the original version of the Gospel of Mark had no post-death appearance stories. So isn’t it probable that a decade or so later, the authors of Matthew and Luke invented their post-death appearance stories, adding them to “Mark’s” invented Tomb story?”

    whenever jesus makes predictions about his resurrection , i note that peter either does not know about what rising from the dead means or he does not know of a dying and rising messiah and rebukes jesus. when he says he is willing to die in 14:28(something positive from him for a change), he completely ignores jesus’ claim about the resurrection(or maybe this is proof 14:28 is an addition?).
    i find this interesting because it seems like mark is deliberately keeping them in the dark about resurrection predictions.
    if my understanding is correct, why would mark have any of the disciples wait in jerusalem to hear the claims from an unknown man in an empty tomb about who is going to galilee?
    even jesus does not say, (neither the man in the tomb) that jesus will be met in jerusalem.

    i think that the embarrassing fact that each pal of jesus left him and darted off to galilee needed apologetic response.

    why would they want to hear what a man in the tomb said when their lives were in danger ? why would they stick around ?

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    1. Good points. One scholar has suggested that the “young man” in the tomb is none other than the author of the Gospel of Mark and that the theme of the original Gospel of Mark is a failure of discipleship on the part of ALL Jesus disciples, male and female. That is why the original Gospel ends with the women in the Garden also failing in their duties. They fail to inform the male disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. In the original Gospel of Mark, the last verse ends with the women fleeing the Garden in fear…and telling no one.

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