RESURRECTION EPISODES RECONCILED
Detractors of the truth of the historical accuracy of the Holy Scriptures have always claimed a basis in the several accounts in the four gospels of the events subsequent to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have never attempted to correlate these accounts will not "have realised His undoubted problems they present, Several attempts have made, however, but these all seem to fall short in embracing Matthew's record in their composite narrative.
It must be admitted that if the claim is established, that contradictions exist, then either the "God Who cannot lie" has not inspired the bible, or if He has done so, then He is shown to be as fallible as a man, and not to be trusted. But the experience of one constantly testing the evidence for biblical veracity and integrity encourages confidence to assume that every word of God is true and trustworthy. This is the basis of this reconstruction: it merely presents one of several possible explanations to resolve the apparent discrepancies.
Tlie gospel writers were human, of course, and they portray the individual's character as in any other writings. Moreover, as the vellum or papyrus on which they wrote was scarce and costly, it is but natural to observe that most books of the New Testament exhibit the writer's own way of coping with closure when their writing material was nearly used up. In some instances there are evident epilogues and postscripts, when extra space was available. In other cases it is found that there is abrupt curtailment of a narrative, or disjunctive verses. The reader should therefore be cautious in making assumptions, and consider whether there may be a hiatus between. two verses in seeming continuity.
Notwithstanding the human element indicated, we still have the warrant of the Holy Spirit, an overruling Editor, that the men who wrote do not contradict one-another. The writings of Scripture make no claim to provide 'the whole truth'; but if they are of God they will be, indeed they must be, 'nothing but the truth'.
Attention to accuracy is a primary necessity in reading and understanding the bible, and so many fail on this basic point. So now let the reader first of all keep in mind, after having checked that it is so, that there was not just one visit by women to the tomb of Jesus, but three. These are
(l) "late on the Sabbath" Matthew.RV.
(2) "while it was yet dark" John,
(3) "when tlie sun was risen" Mark.
Secondly, observe that angels are sometimes spoken of as men; but men may be human beings, in fact it is more likely that they are, the context will clarify. Thirdly, notice that there were two groups of women, not necessarily acting uncooperatively, planning to visit the entombed corpse to carry out embalming. One group prepared their ointments on the crucifixion day and rested on the Sabbaths (or Sabbath); the other group waited for the Sabbath to pass and then brought spices, which afterwards had to be prepared. One observer from each group was at the tomb and saw the stone emplaced.
Now not only does the narrative involve three Marys, it also concerns three men called James. A further complexity is that two of those called Mary each had sons named James and Joses, one being Mary the mother of Jesus. There was also Mary, the mother of James the less, an apostle to be distinguished from James tlie son of Zebedee whose wife Salome seems to have been sister to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It must be borne in mind that all these women were from Galilee and not familiar with the environs of Jerusalem, a .fact of significance.
So then, Joseph of Arimathea "rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre." Matt. 27.61. Thus "Mary Magdalene and Mary (the mother) of. Joses beheld where he was laid" Mk.15.47, in Mark's terms this was the mother of James the less, not the mother of Jesus whom he calls "Mary of James"
These two women had no practical reason, therefore, to visit tlie tomb until ready to embalm the body, but being under the constraints of sahbath observance and having some time to fill out, "At the close of the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the tomb" Matt.28.1. Moffatt. This of course was early evening, and as they saunter along leisurely, they meet up with another group taking a similar stroll. These are Salome with two other unnamed Galilean women whom it will be necessary to designate G. 1 &.2. The two Marys are well acquainted with the site, and tlie other three being less sure of the way are glad to avail themselves of this guidance. But by the time the party had reached the vicinity of the tomb it was well nigh sunset, .when the sabbath would end and the shops be opening up. So leaving GW 1 & 2 to linger as they wished and find their own way back, the two Marys and Salome hurry back to the city. Mary the mother of James the less, whose group had already made up their ointments on the Preparation day, makes final plans to meet the other group early next morning at the tomb and then leaves them to their immediate seeking out of Mary mother of the other James. So, "when the Sabbath was over Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (i.e, mother of Jesus) and Salome bought spices that they might come and anoint Him". But these materials still had to be prepared for use. [Mk.16:1 NAS].
Meanwhile, back at the tomb G-V 1 & 2 had decided before returning to move closer to have a clearer view of the tomb, and were shocked and dismayed to find soldiers there. However, any confrontation that night have seemed likely was abruptly curtailed, for just as the Sabbath ended, "suddenly there was a violent earthquake; an angel of the Lord descended from heaven; he came to the stone - and rolled it away, and sat himself down on it. His face shone like lightning, his garments were white as snow. At the sight of him, the guards shook with fear and lay like dead men." [Matt.28.2-4.NEB]. "But the angel spoke and said to the women, 'As for you, fear not! for I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified. He is not here He is risen, even as He said. Come see the place where He lay.'" [ch.28:5-6. Cunnington] The women then inspect the place where Jesus had been laid and the angel continues, "Quickly, now, go and tell his disciples: 'He has been raised from death, and now he is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him!' Remember what 1 have told you. So they left the grave in a hurry, afraid and yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples"[ch.28:7-8.TEV]
Now these women from Galilee, unfamiliar with those parts and in a state of emotion in their haste failed to locate the pathway along which they had earlier come. So it was not long, as the twilight changed to darkness, before they had to recognise they were lost in a strange district. Thus they found a shelter for the night and longed for the morning daylight.
The two women had not immediately succeeded on their errand, but "while they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priest all that had taken, place" [Matt.28:11-15 RSV]. So the soldiers were soon all withdrawn from the tomb leaving it still open but vacated through the rest of the night, the angel having returned to heaven after directing the women.
It should now be recalled that some of "the women also, which came with from Galilee, including Mary the mother of James the less, and possibly Joanna, "beheld the sepulchre, and how His body was laid. And they returned and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment". [Luke.23:55-56]. Though they intended to meet the other party at the tomb their preparations being complete, they were eager to be off on their task. So, "now upon the first (day) of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing, the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them" [Luke.24:1].
These 'certain others' included, Mary Magdalene: for she had left Salome and her sister to complete their preparations (she was no longer needed as a guide) and gone to seek out her onetime companion, Joanna (cf Luke.8:2-3). Thus she and Joanna joined the other group of women who all "found the stone rolled away from the tomb. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus" [Luke.24:3] It was then, with these 'others' that "on the first(day) of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him' ". [John 20:1-3 NAS] . Peter and John then consult with the other disciples, Mary then staying with them.
Meanwhile, after Mary Magdalene had gone back, her companions at the tomb tarried there, and "while they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood ., by them in dazzling apparel; and us they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise', And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest." [Luke.24:4-9. RSV]. The two men, who are angels, remain, sitting inside the tomb.
But the assembled company believed neither the first report of the empty tomb nor the augmented one about the angels, so it is recounted that "It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James (i.e. the less, he being then present) and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not". Among that company were the two who belonged to Emmaus. [Luke.24:10-11].
"But Peter rose and ran to the tomb" [Luke. 24:12. RSV], and with "the other disciple" they "saw the linen cloths lying" [John 20:3-10]. Yet unaccountably they do not sec the two sitting angels. They report back to the assembled company before returning each to lodgings in the city. It was soon after this that Cleopas and his companion leave to return to Emmaus, for as they were later to say, "certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he wan alive. And certain of them that were with us went to the tomb, and found it even as the women had said: but him they saw not." [Luke.24:22-24. UV].
Now Mary Magdalene, who also seams not to have believed the other women, had followed Peter and John to return to the tomb, but she remained there weeping. Then, looking into the tomb, "she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, which say unto her, 'Woman, why weepest thou?'". In contrast with the fear that other women had shown, Mary converses naturally with the angels as if it was an every day happening. And then the One she sought stood before her as she turned about, repeating the angels' question but adding, -"Whom seekest thou ? ". [John 20:11-16]. It can scarcely be doubted but that the risen Son of God resorted immediately to the Mount of Olives, yet He is drawn back in response to the yearning of one woman. As yet He had appeared to none other, for "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" [Mark.16:9]; and Jesus says to her, "Do not cling to me (or, 'Touch me no more'), for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers, and tell them that I am now ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God". [John 20:17. NEB].
Now Mary did not understand, nor do most students of Scripture even to-day observe, that this message was specifically for the Lord's brothers, viz. "James, Joseph, Jude and Simon".[Mark.6:3]. For Joseph, their father, had died during the ministry of Jesus, and already He had committed his mother to the care of "that disciple whom Jesus loved". Now He is thinking of His brothers, and the relevance of 'my Father and your Father' should be noted. This message, then, was not properly delivered, for "Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with her news : "I have seen the Lord;" she said, and gave them his message"[ John 20:l8. NEB]. In fact, "she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved" [Mk.16:10-11 RV].
Jesus, it can be assumed, returned forthwith to the Mount of Olives and ascended to His Father as He had said, at the dawn of the new day. This was a fulfilment as the antitype of the Wave Offering, when, as it says, "you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest - - - - on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it" [Lev.23:10]. This was Christ's ascension; it must not be confused with His being received up to heaven forty days after. The presence of the two angels in the tomb may well be linked with the ascending of Christ, and doubtless they left the tomb when He had effected this and was on His way back to the city once-again.
All the episodes so far related, as occurring on the first of the week, had taken place between early morning while it was still dark and the dawn. But now the sun was rising and other activities were about to emerge on the scene. Since Mary Magdalene had left them, Mary mother of Jesus, and Salome had now completed preparation of the spices that all three had bought; so still, "it was very early, just after the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, when they went to the tomb" [Mark.16:2.Wil1iams]. They knew nothing of the stupendous events of the last hour or so, "and they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb ?' And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back" [Mark.16:4 RSV]
Meanwhile, those two witnesses of the rolling back of the stone, the Galilean women GW 1&2 who had missed their way in the darkness of the previous evening, bestirred themselves at sunrise and wended their way back towards the tomb, hoping to recover their lost trail. In fear and intrepidation they were still burdened with their exalted commission, "and as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. (or Cheers!) And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him" [Matt.28:9].
Now that the Lord had ascended to His father there was no longer any need to restrain the women from touching His person or clinging to Him, as there had been in the case of Mary Magdalene. But events had now made their earlier commission to the disciples redundant, for Mary had informed them meanwhile. But Jesus was still concerned about his brothers; so he re-commissions these two, saying to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and take word to my brothers that they are to leave for Galilee. They will see me there" [Matt.28:10. NEB]. His first appearing to His brothers was to be in Galilee: His first appearing to the apostles was to be that very day in Jerusalem.
But in Jerusalem there was a "certain young man" who was taking a more than ordinary interest in all these things. He had been seen a few days before carrying a pitcher of water into his mother's house, and it was there that the last supper had taken place. He it was who, getting wind of impending evil when he saw Judas with the High Priest's guards, grabbed the only semblance of covering to hand and dashed out to Gethsemane to give the alarm. Though his enterprise was unavailing he did overhear the conversation of Jesus with the disciples in the garden, and followed the party at a distance until he was apprehended, "but he slipped out of the linen cloth and ran away naked" [Mark.l4:52. NEB]. Now that the third day had come his curiosity took hold of him, and just before sunrise, once more donning inappropriate garb (possibly his parents had withheld his garments to deter such escapades), he goes out to the tomb to investigate, finding it now opened and deserted.
The young man enters and sees with wonderment those same linen wraps that earlier, others had-seen. So sitting down he ponders the words of Jesus that he recalls hearing at Gethsemane, "after that I am risen I will go before you into Galilee", and he reflects on Peter's bold assertion and the Lord's rebuke to-him. [Mk.l4:28]. But while still meditating he hears footsteps as Salome and Mary arrive with their spices, both quite unprepared for the situation.
"And when they went into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting at the right; and they were utterly astounded. But he said to them, 'You must not be so astounded; you. are looking, for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen ; He is not here. See! here is the spot where they laid Him. But you go and tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going back to Galilee to-meet you; you will see Him there, just as He told you'".[Mk.16:5-7 Williams]. This young man, not having angelic knowledge, did not know if Peter was still to be reckoned a disciple, nor that the disciples were already informed about the risen Lord, or that even before Galilee He would show Himself to them in Jerusalem. And neither did he have an angel's ability to allay fear.
"And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" [Mark.l6:8. NAS]. Neither then nor later were they disposed to admit that two mature women were so foolish as to have been frightened by a mere youth, whom possibly they should have recognised. Anyway, such a story would be eclipsed by the accounts of younger women who had seen angels, and some even the Lord. So the only way this incident became known was when recounted by the third person involved, young John Mark of Jerusalem.
Now Peter, who had returned to his lodging in Jerusalem, was also about to receive a visitation from his risen Lord. The details are neither given nor need they be conjectured, it is sufficient to observe that Christ "was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve", [1 Cor.15:5] The point of this Pauline account is one of sequence, not of completeness, which clearly it is not. It may well be supposed that Cephas, who of course is Simon Peter, at once looked up his faithful companion, John, and together they returned to the rest of the disciples whom they found taIking over the second report of Mary Magdalene, though "when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it" [Mark l6:11. NAS].
Meanwhile, later in the day, Jesus "appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country" towards Emmaus. [Mark 16:12] Being "in another form" they were debarred from recognising Him, for "their eyes were holden that they should not know him" [Luke 24:16]. When Cleopas and his companion had earlier left the mourning company in the city, the fact was that Peter and John had "found it even as the women had said; but him they saw not". But now, when "their eyes were opened, and they knew him, - - - they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, 'The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon'". [ch. 24:17-34]. Quite contrary to the modern sceptics supposition that these early Christians were readily convinced and gullible, in fact they exhibit intense resistance to the evidence of witnesses of Christ's resurrection, and this gathering was still a mixed one ''of believers and unbelievers. So when these two witnesses "went and told it to the residue, neither believed they them" [Mark. 16:13].
To account for the "eleven" which Cleopas found, it could be conjectured that Thomas was then present but left soon after. But the totality of evidence makes it more probable that Thomas was not there at the evening regathering, and was not confronted by the reports of Mary Magdalene, of Peter and of the two from Emmaus, all of whom had seen the Risen One. While it does not commit the other gospel writers to the same view, it appears that Luke regards Matthias as one of the twelve, which he had been for many years at the time of writing.
"Then that same day at evening; being the first (day) of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and said 'Peace be unto you'" [John 20:19]; or, as elsewhere expressed; "while the Eleven were at table he appeared to them and reproached them for their incredulity and dullness, because they had not believed those who had seen him after he was raised from the dead" [Mark.l6:14. NEB].
This first occasion of the Lord's manifesting to His disciples as a group, even in the absence of Thomas, involved the pronouncement of peace, the showing of His wounds, the partaking of food, the command to go forth and preach, the confirming of the promise of the Holy Spirit and an instruction to remain in Jerusalem, until that promise was effected. The account of this appearing and discourse is variously, but not inconsistently, given in four places; [Mark 16:14-18; Luke. 24:36-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:3-5].
The two women of Galilee,, GW. 1 & 2, duly delivered their modified message to the Lord's brethren, it can be assumed, and with them returned to Galilee after the feast in order to meet Him there in accordance with His promise. But Matthias, as well as his associated apostolic candidate, Barsabbas, with the eleven apostles, kept the injunction to remain at Jerusalem. So "after eight days", that is one week later, "again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace be unto you'" [John 20:26]. Thus was Jesus seen "then of the twelve" [1Cor.15:5].
The residue had already been rebuked for their disbelief, so now it was Thomas's turn. Apart from their rebuke there is no record of the conversation on this second appearing to the disciples, but it is to be deduced that they were then relieved temporarily of the obligation to abide in the city, in order to meet their Master in Galilee as promised when in Gethsemane. So then a time and place were fixed for this future meeting.
Matthew, though present on both occasions, has no purpose or space to relate either of these appearances in his record. But after a considerable hiatus in his narrative he continues, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them" [Matt.28:16. RSV]. As vividly recalling the event, being a personal participant, Matthew writes in the historical present tense and speaks of "eleven disciples", disregarding the undoubted fact that the then unappointed apostle Matthias, and others, were also with the group leaving Jerusalem to go to Galilee.
However, on the way there and prior to fulfilling this appointment, seven of these disciples took a break at the Sea of Galilee to do some fishing. This is recounted only in chapter 21 of John's Gospel, where it is stated "This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead". Consideration of the details are not here needed.
Matthew closes his account with the manifestation to the disciples on the appointed mountain in Galilee, with the declarations and commands there given. It could be that this same occasion was when "he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once" [1 Cor.15:6]. But however that may be, both the latter and the subsequent appearing when "he was seen of James", the brother of Jesus, would have been in Galilee. In that region there was freedom for the Lord to be among His followers without hindrance or observance from the "world", and assuredly he must have been seen by them many times there in those several weeks.
Obviously, at some point in those days the twelve disciples, and. others, returned to Jerusalem, this time to remain. So forty days after He had shown Himself, to Mary of Magdala, He appeared finally in the city "unto all the apostles", and "He led them out as far as to Bethany" [Lk.24:50]. Yet they walked on still further until they reached the Mount of Olives, .and there, "when they were all together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this the time when you are to establish once again the sovereignty of Israel? '". [Acts 1:6. NEB]. The next eight verses describe the Lord's reply, His being taken up to heaven, 'and the apostles return to the city; or, more concisely expressed, "after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" [Mark.16:19]. Yet observe that it was "while He was blessing them, He parted from them, and was taken up to heaven" [Luke.24:51. C.B.Williams].
This being "taken up to heaven" was not the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. that had occurred forty days previously.
Maurice Lloyd Glasgow
The first day of unleavened bread, being a special feast day, was-called a sabbath; and being followed by the seventh day it was possible to call the two days "sabbaths". This has led to devious translations which disregard the context and. ignore that Hebrew idiom which uses a plural form for emphasis when only the single number is meant. "Sabbath" is such a word, the Groecized form of which is sabbatOn, meaning either "sabbath day" or "week".
The Greek phrase, Te mia tOn sabbatOn (plural ), commonly translated as "the first day of the week", occurs in Acts 20:7 and lCor.16:2, from which it is seen to apply to any "week" and not just the one after Passover. So here sabbatOn cannot be rendered "weeks" or "sabbaths", and the common translation is substantiated; except that it would read better as, "the (day) one of the week". This same phrase occurs too in Matt.28:1., Mark.16:2,, Luke.24:1 and John 20:1 & 10., all applying to that day one of the week when the risen Christ first appeared.
But the only place where the resurrection day is specified is Mark.16:9. Here the Greek wording is anastas de prOtEi sabbatou ephanE prOton maria; but no linguistic ability is needed to see that this differs from the Greek of verse two of the chapter which rightly reads "the first (day) of the week". The word prOtEi is a feminine adjective in the dative case implying a feminine noun which is understood. Translators have guessed that noun to be hEmera, meaning "day", and so could only take sabbatou to mean "week". But if the more likely meaning of "sabbath" be taken, the implied feminine noun is not "day". This implied word is hOra, which means "hour". The clause will now read "now He, uprising (at) early morn (the) first (hour) of sabbath, appeared first to Mary". To the Jews, the first hour began at sunrise, after cock-crowing, [cf Mark l3:35].
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