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

Liam, thanks again, good thoughts… i think what guards me against such concerns this is that i had a friend (more of a schoolmate/acquaintance) who was annoyingly pedantic… and would try to find a contradiction or fault with everything i said by taking everything i said in the most woodenly literal sense, and never gave any normal sense of the use of language. For example, I might have shared with one friend that i had started studying Greek in grad school, and then on another occasion mentioned that I had begun learning basics of Greek while in undergrad… and he would claim i had contradicted myself. I learned to give benefit of the doubt to people’s general explanations especially if they weren’t intending to give an exactingly precise and painstakingly detailed account.

Obviously none of the gospel writers were trying to outline with exacting or precise detail every thing and leave no omissions (Luke even fails to describe Jesus’s appearance to peter that he makes a passing reference to), and thus i give the benefit of the doubt to them the same way i would want people to do for me in my normal use of language. And it is just indisputable that the term “disciples” in this context means many things… sometimes the eleven, sometimes more. The “eleven” may also mean a general term for them, not necessarily meaning every single one of the eleven… ( John still uses the term “twelve” to refer to the disciples post resurrection even though we know there were no longer twelve, after all.)

For instance, consider: even in the book of Luke just by itself… if i were to ask without further clarification or qualification, “Did Jesus’s disciples first meet him on the road to Emmaus some distance from Jerusalem, or did they first meet him in Jerusalem?” the answer is… “yes.” “disciples” is simply too broad a term to yield one single answer.

Or, again, just in Luke’s gospel alone, we have another “apparent” contradiction from Luke that appears in just one breath:

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them…

So… in just one breath… Did Jesus want them to “stay in the city”… or did Jesus want them leave the city and go to Bethany?? if we don’t allow basic common sense in the way people talk in general terms and give some benefit of the doubt, we would see a contradiction there, one at which Luke would probably roll his eyes. but I find it the same kind of pedantic contradiction someone would see, say, if i claimed, “I lived in Japan from 2000 until 2006,” and then later said “I spent 6 months in the middle east in 2003.”

I myself don’t live or die by the need to have a precise reconciliation of every possible discrepancy, but at the same time i just understand how language works, how people make general statements based in their intent, how they will omit various items that just aren’t important to their purpose, and how differing accounts in various contexts often don’t seem to line up even when both are true. And thus i am very hesitant to claim a contradiction when i know i simply don’t have all the facts… a habit i try to extend to any ancient or modern historical literature, testimony, or account, not just regarding biblical literature. i do the same for supposed “errors” people claim about Herodotus, for instance.

And thus i find myself supremely annoyed with folks like Bart Ehrman or Peter Enns when they insist on using only the most pendantic or woodenly literal interpretations (the very kind they chide evangelicals for exercising) in order to find (or invent?) contradictions in the Bible that wouldn’t be there if we just read the text with more natural or common sense use of language.

(OK, i’ll try tog rt off this particular soap box now…!)

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The accounts are CERTAINLY contradictory in details and sometimes theologically narrated in the New Testament.

That some of Jesus’ first and closest eyewitness followers believed he actually rose from the dead and appeared to them is CERTAINLY a historical fact. They may have been mistaken or there may have been massive hallucinations but that they believed this is a fact. We see it in Paul, who was contemporaneous with these individuals way before any Gospel was written. Whoever wrote that article must be writing against “all or nothing” fundamentalists.

Also, how else do we explain how belief in a crucified messiah continued by Jews after his death? I mean, Jerusalem and Antioch were two main early centers of a Christian faith and these Christians were strongly Jewish in outlook (think of the James group and Galatians 2). It’s not as if Christianity only spread in the Hellenised world with various dying and rising savior Gods after Jesus died. It certainly started off as fully Jewish and then included some Hellenists and finally blew up in Graeco-Roman circles as Jews largely rejected the belief.

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Technically, anything can be reconciled if that is your goal. But when you are reconciling, you become the story teller.

Take for instance two examples, hypothetical of course. Example 1: “Jesus rose from the dead”, and Example 2: “Jesus did NOT rise from the dead”. Are the two examples contradictory? Not if you want to reconcile them. You could say they are talking about two different Jesus’s or maybe they are talking about different days (Sunday vs Saturday).

Same with Gospel stories. Lets look at Matthews account:

Matthew 28: 28 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 tomb.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 from fear of him and became like dead men. 5 And 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 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”

8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to report to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go, bring word to My brothers to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

So, Matthew tells a story of Jesus appearing to women after they leave the tomb and tells them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (100 miles) and there they will meet him.

Lets look at Luke’s account:

Luke 24 says that Jesus first appeared to people walking away from Jerusalem, to Emmaus:

Luke 24:30 And it came about, when He had reclined at the table with them, that He took the bread and blessed it , and He broke it and began giving it to them. 31 And then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. 32 They said to one another, “Were our hearts not burning within us when He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road, and how He was recognized by them at the breaking of the bread.

36 Now while they were telling these things, Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened, and thought that they were looking at a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you plainly see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and astonishment, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They served Him a piece of broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it in front of them.

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all the things that are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “So it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

So, Luke’s Gospel shows that Jesus never tells his disciples to go to Galilee, but he tells them to “stay in the city” (i.e Jerusalem). So, at what point do we fit the story of the women near the tomb being told to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee?

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Well, either the text means what it says or it doesn’t. If we only had one Gospel, we’d have one story. But we have four Gospels that contradict each other and yet, the inerrantists need one consistent story, so, like the ex Pres Clinton, we now need to define the meaning of “is”.

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i don’t disagree that some inerrantists seem to need one consistent story and will resort to bizarre tactics to iron out divergences. But some critics certainly seem to have this strange converse need to find contradictions, thus are unwilling to entertain any reasonable alternative besides an outright contradiction, and thus resort to very similar tactics to invent their supposed contradictions. Ehrman and Enns perhaps two of the worst offenders I have read.

So yes, a text means what it says. And the words mean what they said when I wrote above, “I lived in Japan from 2000 until 2006.”

But only a feebleminded dolt or a duplicitous conniving pedant would take those words mean that I had never left Japan for any reason during that time, and use such statements to “invent” a contradiction between those words and my statement that “I was in the Middle East for 6 months in 2004.”

And those are the kinds of “interpretations” that folks like Enns and Ehrman find a need to resort to in order to find (or rather invent) the contradictions in the Bible they use for their arguments.

If conflicts, problems, and contradictions in the Bible are as ubiquitous and common as these folks say, then they should just use those supposedly multitudinous cases where an error is right there in plain sight… rather than resorting to pedantic gerrymandering, textual contortions, and all manner of woodenly and unnaturally literalistic interpretations of words like “is”…

The errors are ubiquitous. Let’s look at the resurrection story. AiG timeline has Luke’s Gospel story as the initial appearance of Jesus. In Luke, Jesus meets the 11 via a teleportation and tells them to not leave Jerusalem! So at what point did he tell the women to tell the disciples to go ahead of him to Galilee? As that would appear Jesus no longer wants the 11 to stay in Jerusalem. How many times do the women visit the tomb to see Jesus? Of course there are clearer errors, for example compare Matthew 4 with Luke 4 regarding the order of temptations. Again you need to create a story to reconcile the accounts.

But the biggest contradiction, in my view, is the contradiction between the promises of Jesus and our actual reality. Jesus promised to never forsake the believer and, that “if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask”. ( Matt 21:22). There the test is much simpler and verifiable for anyone.

A simple test would do. Ask me anything in prayer, and then ask Jesus for the same thing. Then, compare the results.

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As I illustrated above with my illustration of language about living in Japan, the statement about “staying in Jerusalem” obviously does not mean in any common use of language that they were never to leave the city for any reason for any length of time whatsoever.

And, no, I don’t interpret it in this unnatural way to iron out the supposed contradiction regarding Galilee in Matthew’s account, but by reading the very next sentence in Luke…

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them…

Bethany is not in Jerusalem.

The inclination to interpret “stay in the city” as “stay in the city at all times without exception, not leaving it at all for any period of time for any reason whatsoever” is an understanding I fear that grows partly from that aforementioned inclination to find a contradiction and dismiss any alternate reasonable explanation… even though that understanding is not supported even by the immediate context of the next sentence within Luke’s own account. And we must remember, an omission is not a contradiction.

My military orders required me to “stay in Japan” for about six years. During which period of time you may well have found me in Florida, South Carolina, California, Bahrain, Yemen, Korea, Mongolia, Hawaii, Guam, Seychelles…

Topical arrangement of material for stylistic or literary purposes is not typically called out as an error, except by those inclined and determined to find contradictions at any cost.

Obvious hyperbole and other such rhetorical devices, similarly, are not usually called out as “errors”, except, again, by those with a demonstrated need to find a contradiction at any cost.

So… no matter what Jesus promised, if your praying to him works the same as your praying to me, that’s not an error? I guess you are at the opposite extreme then. Look, lack of contradictions doesn’t make a holy book true. I’m not committed to Bible contradictions. But you seem unwilling to even consider the possibility that Jesus’s stories are just that. Stories.

Also there’s a difference between a promise of “anything”. If I say “ask me anything” I surely don’t mean a $1m dollars gift as I am not at that level. If Bezos made the same promise, suddenly $1m dollars is a possibility. And yet, Jesus’s “anything “ comes out to pretty much nothing. I, at least, can help you with a flat tire change. I think you need to reconsider “hyperbole” to be honest.

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If you don’t mind, can you share an example of what you’d consider a contradiction? I must warn you though. I’ll easily reconcile it.

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I’m not sure why I would want to… the only thing that annoys me as much as the critics or skeptics that resort to the most uncharitable, woodenly literalistic, or pedantic interpretations of a text or situation in order to insist that there must be a contradiction are the fundamentalists that resort to the labored and creative detailed speculations of logic and linguistics to insist that there can not be a contradiction therein.

But if you would insist, I suppose I would be curious how you might reconcile Matthew’s account of the miraculous feeding in Matt 15:36-38 (fed 4,000 men with seven loaves and had seven baskets of leftovers remaining)…

And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. (Matt 15:36-38)

With Luke’s account in Luke 9:14-17 (fed 5,000 men with five loaves and had twelve baskets of leftovers…)

For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:14-17)

The appearance stories are quite a mess. There are lots of conflicting details. Per Luke, the 11 disciples are very clearly in Jerusalem when Jesus first appears to them (see Luke 24:33 to the end where he commands them to stay in Jerusalem and after leading them to Bethany they immediately return there). It says they stayed continually at the temple praising God. Luke is careful to note the Mount of Olives is but a Sabbath’s days walk from the City as that is as far as they ever get after Bethany and before Pentecost (see Acts 1-2). In what is certainly a theological hobby-horse of Luke, the Apostles remain together in Jerusalem until Pentecost. No mention of them going anywhere far away is narrated and there is no mention of the Galilean appearance stories we see in Matthew and John 21.

In Matthew Jesus tells the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus will appear to them. He appears to them on a mountain in Galilee. This is clearly narrated as if this is the FIRST appearance of Jesus to them and clearly contradictory to Luke’s account. This is what the plain sense of the words means. No one would ever read this Gospel ANY other way unless they were predetermined to force it to fit in with competing appearance stories.
Contrast that with John 20 where Thomas is not even with the other apostles when Jesus first appears to them (contra Luke 24:33 and Matthew 28:16 which specifically state the 11 were there and saw Jesus). Thomas doesn’t see Jesus until a week later (John 20:24-29). Sure an omission is not incorrect but reporting 11 disciples saw Jesus when only 10 did is certainly an error.

Not only this but John 21 is a second redacted ending and has Galilean appearance stories. John 20 is the original ending to the gospel (read the ends of both chapter 20 and 21 if this idea is new to you). Most critical scholars feel someone attached a second ending to John. We have what look like Jerusalem appearance stories in chapter 20 (though not explicit Peter and John run to the tomb) followed by appended Galilean appearance stories in chapter 21.

John 21 is also a far cry from Jesus telling them to stay in Jerusalem in Luke. Here quite a few apostles are 100 miles away FISHING. Many scholars seem to think this implies the disciples went home after Jesus was crucified and restarted their lives and that Galilee, not Jerusalem, is where the appearance stories probably originated.

I have precluded Mark from this discussion as the current ending attached to it in our Bibles is widely rejected as being original to the work itself.

The historical reality is we have two competing sets of appearance stories. Those in Jerusalem and Galilee. I think Luke is simply telling a smoothed out story where Christianity starts in Jerusalem and spreads to the ends of the earth (ends with Paul preaching in Rome). In other words, details of his narrative are theologically driven. It also seems quite obvious to me that those who are harmonizing God’s word here are perverting it by forcing it to say something it never intended to. Rather than trying to understand why the accounts are narrated the way they are and let the Bible serve as conscience and corrector, conservative apologists are hell-bent on imposing their own will and modern, western ideology onto God’s pen. Those who pretend to take God’s word the most seriously and accept it as literal truth are actually the most guilty of disregarding the plain sense of it.


Easy to reconcile. Different feedings. Different size baskets. Or Matthew simply paid attention to the memorable baskets and men, where as Luke had a more detailed account.

Sound good?

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And which “reconciliations”, if made by someone else more sympathetic to Scripture, might you acknowledge as realistic or legitimate alternate explanations, rather than concluding a contradiction? Or would you think for real that these explanations are simply desperate attempts to reconcile a bona fide contradiction?

Well, it’s a question for you. I think the Gospels are full of contradictions but Christians are very creative at reconciling them. This is not limited to Christianity but to religious people in general. I mean, you’d probably agree that the Koran has contradictions and it’s a purely human book. And yet, the contradictions in the Koran will be harmonized by Muslims just as Christians will harmonize Bible contradictions.

Someone already brought up the example of Mark’s Gospel resurrection accounts that are obvious forgeries (i.e. Mark 16:9-20). Did you know that Mark’s Gospel also has Jesus saying… NO sign will be given this generation?

Mark 8:12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does his generation ask for a sign Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” And, maybe NO sign was given? Luke quotes Jesus as saying there will be a sign given. Sign of Jonah.

Again, you can reconcile anything, but in the process, you are creating your own narrative, your own Gospel if you will. And these reconciliations are very obvious to those who are unbiased observes. The religious love them, of course, as they help justify their faith.

Basically, I’m convinced that Christianity cannot be true based on the false promises of Jesus. Marshall Brain’s God is Imaginary website makes a strong point on these. Will Christians be convinced? I doubt it. I think each person needs to decide what they value. Truth or religion. Most value religion (in my experience). I even heard a few preachers say that even if Jesus did not rise from the dead, it’s better to believe that he did.

I think that ultimately this is the value of religion. It gives people hope. Atheists will die and cease to exist. This is sad. Christians never die. They will exist forever in a blissful afterlife for ever and ever and ever. Who doesn’t want to live forever?

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Not to me. It kind of misses the point. Without a megaphone I’m not sure how you could even speak to a crowd that large, let alone accurately distinguish between a spread out crowd of 4,000 vs 5,000? I mean, are we to imagine them sitting in nice ordered columns and rows so they could have been rough counted? It says groups of 50 or a 100 in some of these accounts but these numbers are probably to be considered estimates that are vaguer than they appear. Some logistical difficulties would go away if we assumed these were highly exaggerated crowds. Or should we imagine Jesus’ positioning himself in a perfect, natural, acoustic amphitheater? Or maybe he used his powers to just imprint his thoughts on his listeners? How spread out would 100 groups of 50 actually be? Logistically, how long would it take the disciples to pass out the fish and bread to such a large spread out crowd? Per Luke 9:16 Jesus had to break and pass the items to his disciples. How long would it take him to do that for 5,000 fish and pieces of bread? Do the math. Maybe the disciples should have doubled back after serving the last person/group and given them the leftovers for breakfast.

Matthew 14:21 makes it worse: “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (see also 15:38)

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As a Christian, I say, “Scary.” I am not sure I have ever seen that. But it would ultimately be self defeating and very dangerous. Our kids, at least, would see through us.

Randal Rauser talks about the importance of atheists and Christians for each other. I am grateful for the New Atheists and evolution. My faith has changed a lot–for the better. It has a ways to go to get closer to the truth, but I hope I don’t shirk. It’d be a mess–and my kids, of course, will see right through me. They already do, and keep me more honest than I might have been!

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Well, if Jesus can walk on water, he can order. the groups of people. Besides, Matthew and Luke don’t say they counted the people. Perhaps it was supernaturally revealed to them. If there is a will to believe there will be a way.

A friend of mine is becoming a Gnostic Christian. He started realizing that the Old Testament God cannot be the same as Jesus. And he doesn’t think NT is without errors. We have many things in common. I actually would e thrilled if there would be a God who is love. But my experience tells me that I’m on my own. If there is a God, he either cannot or will not make himself known.

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He doesn’t do well with dares or demands or any other dogmatism from us.

[See linked topic: Finding God or him finding us]

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The same sources that have all these logistical problems with this miracle are the ones also alleging a man walked on water. I’d say you do the math but you are already resorting to a very problematic notion to defend a logistical nightmare. Since I do believe Jesus was God incarnate, I do find it possible he worked genuine miracles but I would never suggest the Gospels present reliable evidence for specific miracles. They do not. There are lots of rejected claims to the miraculous–in antiquity especially.

Also, if you resort to the miraculous explanations every time you encounter a logistical problem you render the text worthless historically. No historian or critical scholar is going to resort to “magic” every time a contradiction or logistical problem arises when analyzing a written work. You are arguing poorly from the presumption of inerrancy and grasping at any logical possibility you can find.

The inerrancy apologist is always standing above you on a never-ending hill which he can retreat up indefinitely. With his theological antivirus software running in the background, there is no error, regardless of how obvious, pious imagination cannot harmonize away. Truth is, there is no possible way to prove an error to a person with a cult-like belief that will grasp at anything to avoid the obvious truth sitting in front of them.

“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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