Post resurrection accounts of Jesus in the gospels, consistent or not?

Hi everyone,

I’ve recently finished listening/reading the book “Goodbye Jesus” by former Pastor Tim Sledge. The vast majority of the book is his life story told in great detail (he had a significant ministry in the southern Baptist movement in the 80s and 90s) however in the last chapters, he really outlines in his various grievances with belief in the Christian God. I’m not saying I believe everything he says but he is a sensible, intelligent and down to earth man. What he says is certainly coming from a place of common sense analysis and reflection, and also from experience in ministry very few could parallel. Anyhow, in one chapter he explains how he conducted an analysis of the difference between Jesus’ last days on earth as described in the four gospels. Here is a below quote summarising the differences he found in the post resurrection appearances of Jesus

Blockquote
Where did the first appearances of the resurrected Jesus occur? Matthew says they saw the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. Luke says they saw him in Jerusalem. John’s Gospel doesn’t specify the location, but indicates it was on the same day as the day the empty tomb had been discovered. Did the disciples see Jesus on the Sunday of the resurrection in Jerusalem, then ignore Jesus’s command to stay in Jerusalem, instead making the 100-mile trip to Galilee where they saw Jesus again, although Luke indicates he had already ascended into heaven in Jerusalem? Then, did they head back to Jerusalem where they saw Jesus another time with Thomas present—even though there is no mention of Thomas not being present in Galilee?

— Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith by Tim Sledge

He then later states about the resurrection being described as the single most important event in all human history and yet the descriptions around it being marked and varied. He reflects how odd and unsettling that is.

In doing some justice to this topic, I’ve looked to see if there is a way to blend the various appearances of Jesus post resurrection and the old Answers in Genesis team gave it a very solid go in this article

The article is too long to quote here but seems to reconcile the issue of appearing in Jerusalem or Galilee fairly well, although I’m not 100% sure. So, I’m wondering - who’s right? Is Tim Sledge justified in his newfound skepticism of the post resurrection accounts or, have Answers In Genesis sufficiently synchronised the account to all blend together harmoniously?

It will be interesting to read people’s thoughts on this and hopefully a helpful topic to discuss, albeit I realise a very sensitive one with the resurrection being the most critical aspect of Christian faith

Why do the accounts have to be harmonized? Is there any indication in the writings of the early Christians that they were concerned with this? There were eyewitnesses still alive after all. It is only people with a modern sense of what history should be like that would be concerned that the “history” isn’t correct.

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Speaking as an avid, amateur genealogist who has expended substantial time and effort in collecting stories of events involving kinfolk from people who lived through the events and from children and grandchildren of deceased folks who had lived through the same events, I say: Amen!

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I guess my main question would be: why is it important? And I don’t mean for that to sound flippant, because these are good things to discuss, but I think it might have a bigger question hiding behind it.

For some reason, I keep thinking of an analogy to a sporting event. If I were a statistician keeping track of every little detail of the game, and I recorded that number 45 scored first with a touchdown, when it was actually number 8 who got a field goal, I’d probably get fired, because that’s pretty sloppy. But if I were a reporter talking to a random sampling of fans leaving the game at the end and asking them who scored first, I’d probably get answers that were just as sloppy – some would be right, and others wouldn’t be, but it wouldn’t really matter because it’s pretty likely they’d all know the important things – like who won the game. Ask them two weeks later and the minuscule details would be even more fuzzy for most, but they’d still probably know who won.

So when we evaluate eyewitness accounts like the gospels, I think we have to ask ourselves similar things – what’s most important? How much harmony are different witnesses expected to have, especially if they’re writing years later? Should we expect their recollections to function like 21st century Western statistical analyses?

I know this is complicated by the various understandings of what it means for the Bible to be the inspired, “inerrant” word of God. I have had to question my own understanding of what “inspired” means, and I’m still working to get a better understanding of it. But it seems to me that the biblical authors were pretty united about the important things, and if tradition is correct, were willing to die for it. To me that’s a bigger deal than whether they all remember everything in the exact same order.

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I guess to me it would be important in the sense to know exactly what happened. It would be concerning if they saw him in very different places and got it wrong somehow.

But for me I also believe only the original writings were inspired. I don’t believe the copies of copies are inspired but rather just copies of it. They contain errors. They can mess up. They can be translated bad. It may not even always be a copy of a good copy.

Lastly I could also sum it up as I can’t be certain how the resurrected messiah bounced around. I don’t know what all he could do or if some was seeing a vision of him instead of seeing him in the new flesh and so on.

So ultimately it would have zero bearing on my faith.

I don’t want to put mistaken words in his mouth, but I think Pete Enns points out that fundamentalists and Dawkins’ type are both fundamentalist in their view of the Bible–fundamentalists hold the Bible to a crazy level of exactitude that was not intended in the first place. It sets things up for failure. It’s not that Sledge is disingenuous. It’s the standard he was taught, and I agree that the Bible doesn’t hold up to it. George Macdonald wrote the same thing in the end of the 19th century–that he didn’t really care if the witnesses got the accounts mixed up a bit.

I’ve been reading “God’s Word in Human Words,” by Kenton Sparks, an approving, evangelical review of higher criticism, when I can’t sleep. He points out that many higher critics only use the logical assessment with the Bible that they use with any other literature, and have no anti-Christian agenda, just as evolutionary scientists don’t. Denis Lamoureux recommended it; it’s quite interesting, if you get a chance.

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I choose to put confidence in the testimony of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

  • 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
  • 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
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How exactly then it differs from todays history. Isnt it common sense to you know say that “This thing happened here” not there or somewhere else. What kind of writing style they had back then as to say that the same thing happened in different places? Isnt that a contradiction? Which happened first?

But thats just dont make sense. If i had such an experience i would have remembered it. If 4 of my friends had the same one they woukd have remember it. It wanst a walk in the bazar where something unimportant happened. They literally saw a dead man rising appearing in front of them. I would expect to remember the date and the place .

One thing to consider is that they were writing these accounts potentially decades later after a life of persecution, seeing dozens of their friends killed for their faith and the rise of some of the most wicked wet Roman Emperors. So the account of one month, as spectacular as it is, may very well be remembered a bit differently decades later during a very stressful bloody life.

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I can understand that perspective, but honestly, I have no idea what I would or wouldn’t remember. I think we often remember the essence of an experience without necessarily remembering or recording it in journalistic detail, and different people’s brains may work differently in that regard, based on what was most important to them.

Exactly like actual eyewitness accounts. It is when you don’t have such variation that you should suspect that it is all made up – and I could name the written scriptures of a few religions which are like that. And this is just one of several very unique things about the Bible which explains why it rings true to so many people.

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The details weren’t important like they are to a modern historian. The OT often refers to places by names there came into being much later. An example being references to the city of Dan before the land was given to Dan. A modern historian would say “The city of Laish, later renamed Dan, was known for …”.

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But that was a crucial one. Even later in the counsils how did that not concerned the church fathers? Later christians back then whould have been confused no?

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Crucial to you for sure.

Crucial to them? I guess not.

This is an important point. The Bible is a collection of historic documents and as the saying goes “that past is another country; they do things differently there”. And that includes how history itself was written and communicated, as you indicated @Bill_II.

Personally, I have a very high view of the Bible’s divine origin and reliability. Yet I do not believe that this means that (in this instance) the Gospels must fulfil some post-enlightenment burden of proof test to be reliable. Because it was not written for that audience, these documents were written with the standards of the first recipients in mind. The question then becomes not ‘do the Gospels satisfy my standard?’ but 'What was it about the Gospels that the first audience found so compelling?"

Nevertheless, I believe that the Bible is also a collection of trans-temporal documents, ‘connecting with’ and ‘speaking to’ all people’s in all times and places. But that has less to do with it passing my 21st Century tests, but rather the Holy Spirit speaking through it, illuminating it, and applying this ancient anthology to my contemporary needs and concerns. If they happen to also pass my tests great, but it is not a deal breaker for me. At the end of the day, every generation has to wrestle with these texts for themselves.

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Also, I think there may be more historical truths in it than 19th, 20th and 21st Century critics will permit, even by their standards.

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I’m not a ‘literalist’ in the fundamentalist sense. But some sections of the bible, according to their own descriptions, are not intended to be read as post-modernist or spiritualised morality tales, but are intended to be a faithful record of what was seen and experienced.

Having done very significant review of the historicity of the death and resurrection accounts in the past, particularly the resurrection (to the point of speaking to the coroner in Perth about the ‘water and blood’ observation) I think most of the ‘contradictions’ may be the assumptions we bring to it. For instance, since Christ appeared multiple times, so why assume that if Mark mentions one that he may well assume is the first - or not - that this contradicts a bigger reality of multiple appearances.

I won’t go through each one here - let me pick one. I particularly like the fact that they were told to stay in Jerusalem and went to Galilee. Let’s just put one possible construct and see if it could make sense:

Peter is completely crushed by deep and profound personal failure, having denied Christ, who also made eye contact with him. What do we do when we have failed? We often withdraw, return to what we know. So the man called to leave fishing and follow Christ says, I’m going fishing. His boat is in Galilee. A natural leader, they follow him. A night of complete failure, now at fishing. But …so does Jesus follow him. There as he and others are in the boat, Jesus repeats the miracle of miraculous catch that was part of his formal call to follow in the first place. Then three times asks about his love, one for each the three denials. That’s beautifully profound. I don’t see a contradiction, I see something of who God is in our most wretched moments.

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Another:

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One initial observation… even if it were the case that the various details were unreconcilable, this would only be evidence against the inerrancy of the Bible or it’s authors, not against the resurrection itself. ANY actual, bona fide, historical event will have disparate accounts that are either difficult or perhaps impossible to reconcile, due to the different perspectives, witnesses, locations, etc.

There are numerous somewhat conflicting accounts of particular details regarding the battle of Agincourt. At worst, this only calls into question the exacting precision of the accounts by the various eyewitnesses, and makes us recognize that we don’t know the exact timeline or specifics of certain details of the battle. this observation has nothing to do with whether the battle happened or not.

If there are numerous, independent accounts and eyewitnesses of the resurrection (confirmed as independent because they don’t line up exactly as collaborated accounts would), this further confirms the historicity of the event itself, even if it precludes us from having an unerring and exacting timeline.

I fear the author you note is simply revealing his agenda, not any underlying rational search for truth about the resurrection itself. Using minor disparate variations of details of an event as proof that the event itself did not happen is not something we do in other contexts.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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