Harmonization of the Resurrection Accounts

Could anybody recommend some resources on the harmonization of the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels?

I’m very confused about this subject.

I’ve heard a lot of skeptics claim that these accounts are hopelessly contradictory and it is impossible to harmonize them, thus this is proof that the Gospel writers were uninspired because they couldn’t even get the chronology of the events in the right. For example, one site has an essay entitled “The Sad Case of Mary Magdalene’s Amnesia” which it calls “a most glaring and obvious contradiction in the Resurrection accounts.”

I’d appreciate any help with this that you all can offer.


You can read side-by-side the accounts from the synoptic Gospels. Maybe this will help?
Use ‘ctrl F’ and enter ‘resurrection’ to locate all three accounts.

Try St. Augustine’s Harmony of the Gospels.

Actually the Gospel accounts would be much more suspect if they all matched up exactly - that would be what you would expect if the story was fabricated by the Apostles or later writers.

Pick any stressful event (9/11, JFK’s assassination, the sinking of the Titanic, Normandy . . . or great-grandma’s wedding when the cow went down the well) involving a lot of people, and ask them individually to tell you what happened, and you will get lots of variations on the story - and some of them will be mutually contradictory. Go back ten or twelve or fifty years later and ask again, and the gaps will be even greater - not because anyone is lying, but because each individual’s experience is unique, as is the way their brain processes and reports back the memories.

Or, as a New Testament professor of mine said years ago "the post-resurrection events recorded in the gospels are exactly what you might expect to hear from a lot of very excited people running around in the dark. . . "

I apologize if this seems to be simple or offensive. First let me say that I agree completely with what you said. This is what immediately came to mind…

Perspective…it made me think of the story of the blind men and the elephant, each of whom ‘saw’ only one aspect of the elephant, and described the same thing very differently. Boy, I hope that made sense???

Thanks for the responses but, I’m confused about this whole issue…

Could anyone suggest how I could get a better understanding of this issue or recommend some apologetics materials about it which clear the issue up?

An accident happens at an intersection. There is one witness on each corner. Statements are taken from each witness. Will each witness capture all the details?

How will an investigator get to the truth? He will look at the physical evidence. He will interview the witnesses. He will summarize all of the above to give a coherent account of what most likely happened.

Could you be perhaps more specific as to what passages or accounts seem to trouble you?

I came across this article called “Easter Quiz”:


The actual purpose of the “Quiz” is to demonstrate some of the alleged “contradictions” between the Gospel accounts.

  1. Who first came to the tomb on Sunday morning?
    a. one woman (John 20:1)
    b. two women (Matt. 28:1)
    c. three women (Mark 16:1)
    d. more than three women (Luke 23:55-56; 24:1,10)
  1. She (they) came
    a. while it was still dark (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1)
    b. after the sun had risen (Mark 16:2)
  1. The woman (women) came to the tomb
    a. to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1)
    b. just to look at it (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1)
  1. The women had obtained the spices
    a. on Friday before sunset (Luke 23:54-56; 24:1)
    a. after sunset on Saturday (Mark 16:1)
  1. The first visitor(s) was/were greeted by
    a. an angel (Matt. 28:2-5)
    b. a young man (Mark 16:5)
    c. two men (Luke 24:4)
    d. no one (John 20:1-2)
  1. The greeter(s)
    a. was sitting on the stone outside the tomb (Matt 28:2)
    b. was sitting inside the tomb (Mark 16:5)
    c. were standing inside the tomb (Luke 24:3-4)
  1. After finding the tomb empty, the woman/women
    a. ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:7-8; Mark 16:10; Luke 24:9; John 20:2)
    b. ran away and said nothing to anyone (Mark 16:8)
  1. The risen Jesus first appeared to
    a. Mary Magdalene alone (John 20:14; Mark 16:9)
    b. Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:13,15,18)
    c. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:1,9)
    d. Cephas (Peter) alone (1 Cor. 15:4-5; Luke 24:34)
  1. Jesus first appeared
    a. somewhere between the tomb and Jerusalem (Matt. 28:8-9)
    b. just outside the tomb (John 20:11-14)
    c. in Galilee - some 80 miles (130 Km) north of Jerusalem (Mark 16:6-7)
    d. on the road to Emmaus - Miles (11 Km) west of Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-15)
    e. we are not told where (Mark 16:9; 1 Cor. 15:4-5)
  1. The disciples were to see Jesus first
    a. in Galilee (Mark 16:7; Matt. 28:7,10,16)
    b. in Jerusalem (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33,36; John 20:19; Acts 1:4)
  1. The disciples were told that they would meet the risen Jesus in Galilee
    a. by the women, who had been told by an angel of the Lord, then by Jesus
    himself after the resurrection (Matt. 28:7-10; Mark 16:7)
    b. by Jesus himself, before the crucifiction (Mark 26:32)
  1. The risen Jesus
    a. wanted to be touched (John 20:27)
    b. did not want to be touched (John 20:17)
    c. did not mind being touched (Matt. 28:9-10)
  1. Jesus ascended to Heaven
    a. the same day that he was resurrected (Mark 16:9,19; Luke 24:13,28-36,50-51)
    b. forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3,9)
    c. we are not told that he ascended to Heaven at all (Matt. 28:10, 16-20;
    John 21:25; the original Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8)
  1. The disciples received the Holy Spirit
    a. 50 days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3,9)
    b. in the evening of the same day as the resurrection (John 20:19-22)
  1. The risen Jesus
    a. was recognized by those who saw him (Matt. 28:9; Mark 16:9-10)
    b. was not always recognizable (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:15-16,31,36-37; John 20:14-15)
  1. The risen Jesus
    a. was physical (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:41-43; John 20:27)
    b. was not physical (Mark 16:9,12,14; Luke 24:15-16,31,36-37; John 20:19,26; 1 Cor. 15:5-8)
  1. The risen Jesus was seen by the disciples
    a. presumably only once (Matt. 28:16-17)
    b. first by two of them, later by all eleven (Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:13-15,33,36-51)
    c. three times (John 20:19,26; 21:1,14)
    d. many times (Acts 1:3)
  1. When Jesus appeared to the disciples
    a. there were eleven of them (Matt. 28:16-17; Luke 24:33,36)
    b. twelve of them (1 Cor. 15:5)


A source from the beginning of the 20th century…

newadvent.org/cathen/12789a.htm that offers one harmony…

also remember that the ancients related things differently then we do…for example speaking of only one person when there is actually two present …(just a little example)
arranging things etc …

also for your Easter Meditation…

read too the various Easter homilies etc from Pope Benedict XVI from the last several years…

here are some:

Easter Vigil





Eye-witnesses never seem to come up with the same story about anything.

More to the point, in court it is left to the jury to decide what is fact, what story to believe.

Dei Verbum 19 of Vatican II:

“The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who “themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” we might know “the truth” concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4).”

Each word is important in reading this paragraph…

Without trying to address the whole list, let’s just consider one possible explanation. . . .

What if the thought “someone should anoint the body” occurred to several different women independently, each of whom made her way to the tomb, perhaps accompanied by one or two trusted friends, and had some experience that informed her of the Resurrection? Unless they happened to bump into each other coming or going, each might well think she was the first upon the scene, and even if they were to compare stories later, in a time before clocks, it could have been impossible to actually determine the chronology of their separate visits. And some of them might have kept their experiences to themselves while another might have been determined to inform the apostles.

Without pretending to know precisely what happened, I don’t think it is difficult to show that these supposed contradictions are not necessarily mutually incompatible. . .

Matthew records that two women (Mary Magdalen and another Mary) visited the tomb of Jesus after the Sabbath (Matt. 28:1), but it is not in order. When reading the next verses, it is apparent that the writer used an earthquake to dislodge the stone that was in front of the tomb. An ‘angel’ was present inside of the tomb and talked to them. On their way to tell the disciples, Jesus appeared to the women.

Mark’s account identifies the other Mary as Mary the mother of Joses who was the brother of James the Younger. Mark identifies another person who went to the tomb - the sister of Joses and James the Younger - Salome. So, three women were at the tomb. There is also an inclusion that speaks about Mary Magdalen and that Jesus appeared to her first. In any event, the women found the stone entrance rolled back and an ‘angel’ was inside waiting for them.

In Luke’s account, there were ‘women’ who went to the tomb after the Sabbath. Who they were we don’t know because they are not identified here, and we don’t know how many. When they entered the tomb, two (not one) angels appeared and talked with them about the resurrection of Christ.

John’s account identifies only one woman, Mary Magdalen, to whom Jesus appeared.

There really isn’t a lot of contradiction here when you take into consideration the fact that each gospel writer wants the reader to understand that the tomb was EMPTY. Second, that Jesus triumphed over death and was in a glorified physical body. Third, there was someone inside the tomb (identified as an angel or ‘angels’ in the plural) who talked to them about the resurrection of Jesus - whether or not this is true is somewhat questionable, but would make the case in Matthew’s gospel that Pilate and the chief priests were afraid that someone was going to steal the body. If the women found somebody in the tomb with the stone rolled back, then what would Pilate and the priests conclude? Exactly - that whoever was in there was part of a group who took the body! Personally, I interpret this part of Matthew’s gospel as Pilate had the tomb sealed with a special mark, but that no guard was present.

But, the purpose of the angel (whether there or not) was to enlighten those who came to the tomb that Jesus was who He said He was and that the Scriptures were fulfilled. So, I really don’t see a contradiction in the accounts - they all say the same thing in one way or another.

Greetings in the LORD!

Here is a harmonization of the resurrection accounts.

Jerome’s Letter to Hedibia also answers some of these questions. I love this thought about which women were at the tomb when…

“As for me, it seems to me that we can meet this challenge in a simpler and less embarrassing way, by saying that these holy women, unable to bear the absence of Jesus Christ, were in transit all night, and went to observe His grave not only once and twice, but constantly, especially as their sleep was disturbed and interrupted by the earthquake, by the sound of splitting stones, by the eclipse of the sun, by all sorts of confusion and inconvenience, and especially by the desire they had to see the Savior.”

Here is Monsignor Pope working out some of the apparent discrepancies, and you’ll find some other solutions here.

I hope you have a blessed day!

Your brother in the Lord,

In general


Monsignor Pope again: “A Chronological Sequence of the Resurrection Appearances.”

Thank you, Monsignor!

The above paragraph is very important.
maybe the Evangelists were not so much interested in chronological order but logical order for the purpose of preaching the Gospel for the purpose of faith and morals. The Gospels aren’t necessarily literal history but are based on historical facts handed down to them.
The link below should be extremely helpful in understanding the Gospels and the fact that lack of perfect harmonization does not damage the historicitiy of the Church tradition that the Gospels are a product of.


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