Why Are There Multiple Accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection in the Bible?

(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/why-are-there-multiple-accounts-of-jesuss-resurrection-in-the-bible

(Jay Johnson) #2

Ladd’s I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus is a forgotten gem still available on Amazon. His harmonization of the resurrection accounts is definitely the most logical and persuasive that I have seen.

Just to throw out a couple of books for those interested in reading more, I suggest Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach and, of course, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

(George Brooks) #3


I think it would be more beholden of us to point out how difficult it is to assemble a successful harmonization.

The study of successive edits and revisions from Mark to Matthew to Luke (or is it the other way?) to John can be extremely revealing about how sacred texts are put together and how various “schools” of priests will go to great lengths to borrow what they like from a predecessor… and to make insertions to change the whole sense of what the earlier work was trying to say!

(Jay Johnson) #4

Trust me, I know. I spent about five years creating my own paraphrased Diatessaron. Just for fun, here’s a peek at how I treated the first part of the resurrection accounts, following Ladd’s proposal:


As dawn broke on the first day of the week, an angel of the Lord appeared at the tomb. The ground shook as violently as the guards themselves, and the angel rolled away the stone and sat upon it. His face was radiant like lightning, and his clothes were white like snow. The guards, for their part, were so paralyzed by fear that they appeared dead.

About this time, the Galilean women (among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna) who had set off for the tomb with the spices they had prepared for anointing the body of Jesus began to wonder aloud, “Who will move the stone for us?” as they neared the spot. Although the sun had crept above the horizon, the hillside tomb was enveloped in shadowy gloom when they realized that the stone already had been moved, even though it was extremely large. They stepped inside and saw that the body of the Lord Jesus was gone.

Mary Magdalene ran to find Simon Peter and John. “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she reported to them breathlessly, “and we don’t know where they’ve laid him.”

While the other women waited in confusion, suddenly two young men appeared in clothes that gleamed like lightning! The women were terrified and bowed down to the ground in awe.

“Don’t be afraid,” one of the angels said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee? He said the Son of Man must be handed over to sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. He isn’t here. He has risen just as he said. Look! Here is the place where they laid him.”

While Jesus’ words flooded back to the women, the angel continued, “Go quickly and tell his disciples and Peter: ‘He has risen from the dead, and he will precede you into Galilee and see you there, just as he said to you.’ Observe what I have told you.”

The women practically fled from the scene, trembling in astonishment and joy. Yet they were gripped by fear, as well, and said nothing to anyone because of it.

After receiving Mary Magdalene’s report, Peter and John rushed to investigate. The two ran together, but John was faster and arrived first. He stooped to peer inside and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t enter. Peter barged into the tomb, where he saw the linen burial cloth on the ground, as well as the facial wrap that had been on Jesus’ head. That cloth wasn’t with the others but had been rolled neatly and set aside. John then entered, and he saw and believed. At this time, however, the company of disciples didn’t understand from Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead, so they parted ways and returned to their homes.

Mary Magdalene remained behind at the tomb to mourn, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb and again saw two angels. They were dressed all in white, with one at the head and the other at the feet of where the body of Jesus had been.

“Woman,” one said to her, “why are you weeping?”

“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she answered, “and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” She turned and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t immediately recognize him.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asked.

Supposing him to be the caretaker of the garden, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, please tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him somewhere else.”

Jesus said, “Mary!”

She cried out, “Rabboni!” (which means “teacher” in Aramaic), and fell upon his neck.

“Stop clinging to me,” he told her, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

So Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them what he had said to her.

After this, Jesus met and greeted the other women who had fled from his tomb. They fell to his feet and worshipped him, and Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and take word to my brothers and sisters to leave for Galilee, and I will meet them there.”

So they returned and reported all of these things to the eleven and the rest of his disciples. Now, those who were telling the apostles that they had seen Jesus were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna, as well as the other women who had been with them, but their story sounded like nonsense to the men, who refused to believe it.

Footnote: All of the evangelists agree that the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were women. Like the despised shepherds who came to see the infant Jesus, women were not regarded as trustworthy and their testimony was rarely admitted in Jewish legal proceedings, which explains the reaction of the men. Had the evangelists been inventing a story, they certainly would not have identified women as the first eyewitnesses

(Arnold J. Bur) #5

Looks like you changed what was written. Matthew 28:1… After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. The guards trembled in fear of him and became like dead men. – Didn’t know the guards were shaking as violently as the ground. Is this from the Message Bible or Amplified?

(Arnold J. Bur) #6

The answer is that the Bible is not God Breathed. Only the Holy Scriptures are God Breathed. I use the word “Holy” because scriptures are writings and they are not all from the Holy God. Luke explains in his first chapter that he is compiling his information to tell the “story” from his point of view because many others are doing the same. I wrote in more detail here.


Just wanted to note that some of the “differences” mentioned in that BioLogos page are practically spurious. And these don’t need to be resolved through “harmonization”, since there’s a little thing called literary techniques common in Greco-Roman biography in the classical world and, would ya look at that, the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies and use their same literary techniques. Luke and John say there are two angels, but Mark and Matthew don’t say there was one, they just don’t mention the other. This is called ‘literary spotlighting’ – easily the most often used technique in Greco-Roman biographies (certainly the most used by Plutarch, who wrote rather close in time to the Gospels).

As for how many women go to the tomb, not only is there literary spotlighting happening here as well, but it is outright demonstrable. John is the only Gospel to mention a single women, whereas the other Gospels mention varying numbers. And yet, John also writes;

John 20:1-2: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Well, whose the “we”? So Gospel authors are outright capable of mentioning less people than they’re aware took part in the narrative. I’ve looked at the discrepencies, and there’s probably two of them in the resurrection accounts – all of them are peripheral, of course, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves about other so-called contradictions when trying to make ‘honest concessions’.

(Jay Johnson) #8

Sorry for the slowness of my reply. Yes, I changed what was written, because it is a paraphrased harmony. The first two paragraphs of the excerpt are an amalgam of Matt. 28:1-4, Mark 16:1-4, Luke 24:1-3, and John 20:1.

That is my own version of literary license. See @Korvexius above.

(JamesM) #9

One reason which suggests itself is, to allow the Evangelists, each of whom has his own theological perspective on Jesus, to apply their theological outlooks to the Resurrection, as well as to His Death & His Public Life. The Resurrection accounts should not be harmonised, because doing that deprives them of their distinctive theological value, They complement one another by telling us different things about how the Resurrection was perceived and reacted to, It is too great an event for any one author to convey everything about it; so we have several narratives about it instead.

Every word in these narratives matters, because the way in which the Evangelists - & the other NT writers - use the OT passages they quote, cite, or echo, can be valuable clues to what the Evangelists (and other NT writers) mean.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #10

When can we get the audio recording of you reading from the JUV (@Jay313’s Unauthorized Version)?

(Jay Johnson) #11

An appropriate abbreviation. It’s the JUVenile paraphrase.

But, in answer to your question, look for it on my podcast. (Coming Dec. 2019.)

(George Brooks) #12


That’s like saying “literary spotlighting” is the explanation for why the Book of John says Jesus started his career by overturning the tables of the money changers… while the other 3 gospels say Jesus ended his career by overturning the very same tables.

You literally have to accept that John had a good reason for not mentioning the latter event, and the other 3 books had a good reason for skipping over the first event discussed by John.

It’s pulp fiction at its worst.

(Jay Johnson) #13

Perhaps you’d like to clarify that remark.

(George Brooks) #14


Did Jesus overturn the tables twice? Or just once?

If he did it twice, how is it that four different histories of his life don’t seem able to get the story straight?

And if he did it once, how is it that something “breathed of the word of God” doesn’t know which one was the historically authentic occurrence?

There you go, @Jay313.

(Jay Johnson) #15

Yes, I’m aware of that issue, but I asked for clarification of your “pulp fiction at its worst” comment. I thought perhaps you were referring to my little snippet, which would be fine, rather than the gospels, which is offensive to many here. Not exactly the way to “win friends and influence people” to join your GA cause. Just sayin.

Sorry that I missed your comment the first time around. I agree with everything you say except this sentence. The church has been producing gospel harmonies since Tatian’s Diatessaron in the 2nd century, and there are many legitimate reasons to construct a harmony of the gospels. For example, the wiki page on “gospel harmony” lists these:

Harmonies are constructed for a variety of purposes: to provide a straightforward devotional text for parishioners, to create a readable and accessible piece of literature for the general public, to establish a scholarly chronology of events in the life of Jesus as depicted in the canonical gospels, or to better understand how the accounts relate to each other.

What I have done is a combination of the first two. It’s not meant to be anything more than a “life of Christ” narrative, much like a TV miniseries on Jesus.

Now, I would agree with you totally if you had said something like, “Harmonies may be useful for worship, devotion, or comparative study of the gospels, but they should not be used to draw theological conclusions.”

(George Brooks) #16


I’m still in the dark here. Your little snippet? Is it in this thread, or another?

I do flip-flop on how much to endulge my more ardent Christian brothers about how reliable the Old or New Testaments can be … or how **un-**reliable.

In my view, it is obvious that the Bible has errors in it. But that these errors do not endanger its message or most of its credibility. If the President of the United States writes a letter with some mis-spellings, or some errors in fact, do we immediately call for Revolution - - because we can no longer trust the President?


So this whole Syndrome - - “Can’t go near the slope because it is probably too slippery there!” - - is a logical fallacy. But that never stopped a demagogue from his or her “demagoguery”!

(Jay Johnson) #17

The thread was resurrected, so to speak, by someone’s reply to my posting a short selection from a harmony that I had compiled and paraphrased. The thread is only 16 posts long, George. Should I go back and find it for you (#4)? haha

Or, if the President writes a letter with an error of fact, do we immediately categorize it as “pulp fiction at its worst”? The demagoguery, in this case, is coming from you.

You can make your point without intentionally trying to offend their sensibilities. That’s not indulging them. It’s simple respect.

(George Brooks) #18


Quote me where i intentionally tried to offend, and I’ll review what I wrote.

(Jay Johnson) #19

So, your comparison of the gospels to “pulp fiction at its worst” was unintentional, or you didn’t think it was offensive?

Nevermind. Not sure why I’m trying to teach social skills over the internet.

(George Brooks) #20


Dont miss this Teaching Moment! Teach me what you would consider best:

I should just say?:

“The conflict in timelines found between John and the other 3 gospels (regarding overturning the tables of the money changers) indicates erroneous comprenension of the life of Jesus.”