Contradictions in the resurrection narrative


Hi there,

It’s me after a long absence. I’ve missed you all!

I want to ask a question about the apparent contradiction regarding the story of resurrection, if you allow me.

First let’s have a look at the verses:


On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.


When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene,who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”



Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

-The story of the two disciples running to see the empty tomb-

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

So from the highlighted passages I see a couple of contradictions:

1- What time was it? Before sunrise or after sunrise?
2-Were there two angels or only one?
3-Did they meet him/them before or after entering the tomb?
4-Did they find them in the tomb sitting or suddenly appeared standing?
5-Did Mary Magdalene Jesus or not?
6-If she met him, is it before or after she notified the disciples?
7-Did she touch Jesus or not?
8-Did Mary see the stone being moved as implied by Matthew or not as implied by the other gospels?
9-Who was there in the first place? Mary alone or with a group of others?


It’s a difficult question and there isn’t an easy answer. However, I can warmly recommend this short book, first published as long ago as 1930.


I will give it a try. Is there a free version of it?


Sorry, I don’t know. I haven’t tried. I’ve had it on my shelf for close to twenty years.


Maybe this could help?


Dr David Anders of EWTN radio (“Called to Communion” – for non-catholics with questions about the Catholic faith) mentioned “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by N.T.Wright as the most comprehensive treatment of the biblical accounts of the resurrection.

I’ve got the book but I’ve just started it. NT Wright was formerly an Anglican bishop but now he works as a college professor (as best as I understand his situation).

The book is off to an intensive start, discussing what IS a historical fact? (long way to go after this)

As Anders says, this book is not for everybody. I’m not even sure it’s for me, actually. But, I’m going to throw myself into it. It takes him about 10 pages of preliminaries to assert that he does, in fact, believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Wright is a very highly respected intellectual and part of his expressed goal is to deal with just those apparent contradictions that appear in the biblical accounts. That’s why I bought the book


Again is the book available for free?


I’m looking into it, thanks!


Of course if the four accounts were identical in detail then people would say they Gospel authors conspired together to make the whole story up. :roll_eyes:

The basic message is the same in all four. From the article posted by @theCardinalbird:

“Ironically, the fact that these accounts are not in verbatim agreement actually enhances the probability that they are historical. Each Evangelist is making use of different sources of eyewitness testimony when composing his Gospel. The Evangelists didn’t “cut and paste” a prefabricated Easter account into their respective Gospels.”


There is a certain leeway with eyewitness testimonies. If there is a car accident it’s possible that one person could say the other car was black while another person could say it was blue. The models might be identified differently, but the testimonies (if correct) will be more alike than contrasting. If one person said they were hit by a car and the other said it was a horse, then the troubles are two different to be believed.

I think last year when a similar topic came up I reference an old joke:

Four college students had overslept and missed a final exam for a class they shared. They went to the professor the next day and said they were driving to class and had tire blow out. The professor agreed to give them a make-up exam for the next day. At the exam the students were put in separate rooms. They all went through the test and then got to the last question, “Which tire blew out?”

By the reasoning that we can ignore glaring inconsistencies because the stories all had the same message would mean that the professor should have believed the boys’ stories as they too had the same message.


Tatian’s Diatessaron is an early Christian (c. 160-175) gospel harmony. You might find his harmony of the resurrection accounts (Section LII, 45 - Section LIII, 24) worthwhile reading.


There are really no contradictions. One or more angels appeared to Mary Magdalene and her companions and told them to “Be not afraid”. Each gospel was assembled from difference sets of accounts that lost or embellished different details. All this means is that each women told different details to third parties, and the scribes that recorded the accounts each reassembled the story from the accounts of various third parties.


I will say a couple of things from a Theology perspective.

There were absolutely no witnesses to the Resurrection itself. No one witnessed Jesus rising.
There is the empty tomb, the three days in the tomb, the appearances of Jesus to Peter, the 500,the women, the Apostles , Disciples etc.

Yes the Gospels report events differently.

This tells us that the authors of the Gospels were not so much concerned with a history of the Resurrection but were concerned with the theology

What did this mean? Who was and is Jesus. What is His relationship with God. What is His relationship with us. What does this mean to our salvation. How is Jesus related to God in our one God religion

The miracle of the early Church is that Christianity began with the Resurrection . It caused a profound change in the Apostles and Disciples who set about declaring what happened and calling Jesus Lord and Christ, in the face of that statement being a dangerous political act. It would lead to martyrdom for most of them before AD 70.

And the experience of the Resurrection caused a rapid explosive spread of Christianity all through the Mediterranean. Even though that meant death to early Christians declaring the Divinity of Jesus.


The answer isn’t as black and white as one would hope, and lies more within the culture and writing traditions of the time than in matters of fact v. error. The writers of the New Testament were Hellenistic writers. In those times, the meaning of the narrative (the message) was more important than the details. They weren’t reporting fact as much as they were recording a tradition and the meaning of that tradition. That is why you see the resurrection story develop over the 20 of 30 years between the time Mark was written and the time when John was written, and while you can detect that the authors of Mathew and Luke were familiar with the text of Mark, they do build on certain parts of the story such as the resurrection, the nativity, the flight into Egypt and so on and so forth. On some points they are in contention with one another, and of course John is another story altogether.


Except there are no glaring inconsistencies here so it’s not the same at all.


1- What time was it? Before sunrise or after sunrise?
A. Footnote from NABRE John 20:1

  • 20:1Still dark: according to Mark the sun had risen, Matthew describes it as “dawning,” and Luke refers to early dawn. Mary sees the stone removed, not the empty tomb.

2-Were there two angels or only one?
A. Two.

3-Did they meet him/them before or after entering the tomb?
A. The angels were seen from outside the tomb. Jesus was met outside of the tomb.

4-Did they find them in the tomb sitting or suddenly appeared standing?
A. Both can be true in sequence.

5-Did Mary Magdalene [see] Jesus or not?
A. Yes.

6-If she met him, is it before or after she notified the disciples?
A. After notification.

7-Did she touch Jesus or not?
A. The feet were clasped, but no indication of a reunion hug with holding on.

8-Did Mary see the stone being moved as implied by Matthew or not as implied by the other gospels?
A. No. The word removed is a perfect passive participle: The perfect participle indicates completed action.

9-Who was there in the first place? Mary alone or with a group of others?
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1). “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.” (John 20:2)


There are a surprising number of books available for free at the open library, as the one you mention is also but I think you may have to wait a while to read it?

Always worth a look if you’re not sure whether to buy a hard copy etc.


The writers of the Gospels also had different readers in mind when they wrote. This means it is important to emphasise different aspects of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ depending upon if the reader is Jewish or non-Jewish.


I wouldn’t get bent out of shape about it. These are accounts that were written decades after the fact by people recollecting what happened. Try talking to your siblings or someone in your past about some event you both experienced and see how many details you disagree on.

And then ask yourself if the minor details matter. When we say the bible is without error, we are speaking on matters of faith and morals exclusively. It’s good to pray with scripture and study scripture. It’s also recognize what each section of scripture actually is and to not expect it to be something it isn’t.

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