The Differing Resurrection Accounts


Hi, all.

I was just wondering if the discrepancies within the four Resurrection Accounts somehow reduced their credibility; why or why not?

For example,Matthew is the only writer who records the first appearance to the women, while only in Luke do we find the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The appearance to Mary Magdalene is omitted by Luke. Only John records the appearance of our Lord in the upper room, when Thomas was absent and the appearance on the Sea of Galilee.


They are not meant to be historical accounts. The Gospels are not intended to be actual timelines of events.

In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are one theological action. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would not come until he ascended to the Father and in John’s Gospel Jesus is resurrected, ascends to the Father, and then returns to the upper room where he breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples. This is John’s version of Pentecost, which is far different from Luke’s version in Acts of the Apostles. This is just an example.

My advice is not to get hung up on the historical details of the Bible but to focus on the truth’s God wants us to know for our salvation.




People write what they remember, and we know different people remember different things, and consider different things important.

The important thing to take away from these readings is that Christ did rise from the dead, not as he was prior to death, but in a new, glorified body. And, he promised those who become his disciples that they, too, will be resurrected and given a glorified body.


The Resurrection, itself, would be impossible to forget. Details such as time and surrounding circumstances, OTOH, could even be expected to be confused. This can actually lend credence to the story (having errors typical of eyewitness accounts, lack of collusion between writers of the accounts, etc). In any case, Catholicism is not a “religion of the book” as the Catechism teaches; we’re not wooden literalists. Scripture is inerrant in regards to those matters related to the salvation of man.


At the time the Gospels were written, the early Christians were still being harassed by the Jews. The Resurrection appearances were considered by the Jews in the same vein as calling forth the spirit of a dead person. This was punishable by death. The earliest Gospel [Mark] mentions the fewest appearances while the last Gospel written [John] has the most details. The paper, “The Post Resurrection Appearance” [Melita Theologia, Number 1, 1998] discusses the appearances and claims there were a total of seven.**


The Resurrection, like the End Times, is not an event, its a person (Jesus Christ).

Therefore, differing accounts make little difference. What matters is:

I BELIEVE…[Jesus Christ] suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.



if they all were exactly the same, they would look fake


Personally I think they are compatible and that one single narrative may be constructed out of them.


Remember also, there are various accounts of Christ appearing at various times to the disciples who did not even recognize him at first. There was certainly confusion among them all upon suddenly recognizing their Lord…

My wife (of 45 years) and I have different recollections of how and when we met. They are both true, but that doesn’t make the fact that we did meet, fall in love and marry lack any credibility.

Throughout the Bible, there are many apparent “contradictions”. The very creation stories in Genesis contradict each other when read as historical accounts; Was man created last or first? Where did Cain’s wife come from? Where exactly was Nod in relation to the Garden? yet there is nothing contradictory in the truth of the teachings of the scriptures and it is this truth to which we must listen and learn.


I disagree with the idea that the events as described in the four books of the Gospel can be gelled into one single narrative. There are too many conflicts.

I also disagree with the idea that the differences between them are minor and reflect different perspectives. Yes, in everyday testimony people will see things differently. Two men that were part of a hit and run might say different things as to the color of the car that hit them, but one of them isn’t going to say they got hit by a car and the other say they got hit by a horse.

Matthew: Dawn
Mark: Very early in the morning
Luke: Very early in the morning
John: Still dark

Matthew: Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary
Mark: Mary Magdalene, and Mary (mother of James), and Salome
Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (mother of James), and other women
John: Mary Magdalene

Matthew: Rumbling, angel moved the stone and then sat upon it
Mark, John, Luke: Stone already moved away

Matthew No mention of looking inside the tomb, just the angel telling them Jesus isn’t there and to tell the disciples that he has risen.
Mark: A young man in a long white garment stood on the right side
Luke: Two men in shining garments stood by them.
John: Mary wept and saw two angels in white where the body had been, one at the head and one at the foot.

Matthew: They had fear and joy and ran to tell the deciples
Mark: They said nothing to any man for they were afraid
Luke: They told all those things to the 11 and all the rest
John: Mary left the sepulcar before going in and ran into Simon Peter and another disciple. All three then went inside the tomb.


This makes problem only for those who hold to the biblical inerrancy. And even they seem to be doing well.

If you are interested in conformity between the accounts, you might check this version: . It is not definitive, but it is one of the possible versions.

All narratives agree on the key witnesses of the Resurrected Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Peter), agree on the angels appearing to the women, agree on Jesus appearing to all the Apostles, eventually. The disagreement you are talking about is about the consequence of events.


In this part of a response Catholic forum member Della gave (hope it’s ok with Della I post their comment here), this was actually in regards to a question about the Gospel accounts and the day Jesus died on, but I think this reasoning could help to understand other parts of the Gospel where there are some differences too:

It’s like 4 reporters attending a White House function. Depending on the reporters’ readership, each will list those persons there and what happened according to his own perspective. So, one or two of them might leave out details or mention of persons that the others left out. It doesn’t mean the WH function never took place or that they colluded together to lie, but rather that they each reported what they believed would be of interest to their particular readership. It’s the same with the Gospel writers. They weren’t being modern historians, but rather they were being story-tellers. Story-tellers relating a true story as they saw it and understood it.


They increase my faith in the event.

This was an amazing event. When a group of people experience something that spectacular, each person will have a different perspective as to what happened. The apostles were in different places. The women were in different places reacting in their own way. Jesus appeared to people at different times. Things happened at different times by different people. Everyone was in a confused state of mind.

Take, for instance a crime scene witnessed by a number of people. If the detectives question each person and if each person told the exact same story the detectives would know that they all got together to create a story that they wanted the detectives to hear. The detectives would figure they were lying to hide the truth.

The fact that each apostle tells the event as he saw it or how the people he talked to experienced the event, tells me that the event took place. It wasn’t a story concocted by the apostles at a later date. A story concocted at a later date would not have discrepancies.

Luke may not have known about Mary Magdalene when he wrote his gospel. He may have interviewed the two men who were on the road to Emmaus. The other Gospels writers may not have heard about the experience these men had.

Each writer wrote what they experienced. Lots of things were happening all at once to a lot of people.


It’s not a matter of inerrancy but inconsistency and contradiction. It wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. So many failures from authors alleged to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

If you are interested in conformity between the accounts, you might check this version: . It is not definitive, but it is one of the possible versions.

Here is an outline of a possible harmony of the Evangelists’ account concerning the principal events of Easter Sunday:
•The holy women carrying the spices previously prepared start out for the sepulchre before dawn, and reach it after sunrise; they are anxious about the heavy stone, but know nothing of the official guard of the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1-3; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

It’s a stretch to say that the women left when dark and got there when light, since in John it states that it was dark and that Mary Magdalene arrived at the sepulchre in the same sentence. Still it’s minor and if it was the only flaw in the narrative we could let it go.

•The angel frightened the guards by his brightness, put them to flight, rolled away the stone, and seated himself not upon (ep autou), but above (epano autou) the stone (Matthew 28:2-4).

None of the other Gospels make any mention of an earthquake or an angel sitting upon the stone. They mentioned the stone but don’t seem to think it’s important that an angel was sitting on it.

•Mary Magdalen, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome approach the sepulchre, and see the stone rolled back, whereupon Mary Magdalen immediately returns to inform the Apostles (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1-2).

If these three women were together, why does John not mention either the other Mary or Salome? Why does Matthew not mention Salome? I’ll get to Luke below.

•The other two holy women enter the sepulchre, find an angel seated in the vestibule, who shows them the empty sepulchre, announces the Resurrection, and commissions them to tell the disciples and Peter that they shall see Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7).

Matthew 28 makes no mention of Mary Magdalene leaving. He only mentions that the two Marys arrived and then spoke to the angel on the stone. He then says the “women” left (of which Matthew says there were two). Mark 16 also makes no mention of Mary Magdalene leaving.

•A second group of holy women, consisting of Joanna and her companions, arrive at the sepulchre, where they have probably agreed to meet the first group, enter the empty interior, and are admonished by two angels that Jesus has risen according to His prediction (Luke 24:10).

Supposedly there was a second group of women, despite the other Gospel writers making no mention of them. More interesting is that the apologist states that “they have probably agreed to meet the first group”. Not only does the apologist have to construct two groups but also a meet-up to try to have it makes sense. Perhaps the authors at should take seriously the calls in the Bible not to add to scripture. But this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a believer do so in order to advance a desired narrative.

•Mary Magdalen returns to the sepulchre, sees first two angels within, and then Jesus Himself (John 20:11-16; Mark 16:9).

Mark 16 doesn’t say that Mary Magdalene returned to the sepulchre and that’s where she saw Jesus. It doesn’t say that she saw the two angels. It does say she was one of three women that saw a single man in a white robe (not two angels) in the tomb. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that Mark 16:9-20 appears to have been a later addition to the scriptures. John 20 doesn’t say she saw the man in the white robe.

•The two groups of pious women, who probably met on their return to the city, are favored with the sight of Christ arisen, who commissions them to tell His brethren that they will see him in Galilee (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:8).

Again, there is no mention in any of the Gospels of two groups of women or a meeting up between said groups. Revelation 22:18 is still in effect, right?

The harmony of the other apparitions of Christ after His Resurrection presents no special difficulties.

“No special difficulties”? If the apologist bent over backwards any more he could join Cirque de Soleil. :smiley:

All narratives agree on the key witnesses of the Resurrected Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Peter), agree on the angels appearing to the women, agree on Jesus appearing to all the Apostles, eventually. The disagreement you are talking about is about the consequence of events.

It doesn’t agree on the parties involved, how many angels, whether there was an earthquake, whether the women spoke to no one or told the 11.

It’s like three people telling a wedding story. One of them says the bride and groom made it on time. One says the bride and groom were late but luckily Paul McCartney happened by and drove them to the chapel, then later played with the wedding band at the reception. A third says the bride and groom were late but the bride’s uncle picked them up. They’re contradictory and two of them don’t mention something amazing that happened. By this logic we can assume the stories to be true because they all involve the bride and groom getting married.

Christians often lament why non-Christians often don’t take to their faith. It’s things like this where the tales don’t make sense and the rationalizations make even less sense.


If they exactly matched, it would be evidence of their falsity.


But as I mentioned there is a large gap between different people giving different minor details. The example I gave was if two people were in a car that was the victim of a hit in run. In a plausible scenario the driver might say it was a blue car that hit them while the passenger might say it was a dark gray car that hit them. It’s implausible that the driver would say they got hit by a car and the other says they got hit by a horse.

There reaches a point where it goes from being an understandable variance in stories to where it just doesn’t add up at all. Only in apologetics can conflicting stories or stories where amazing events are completely omitted do some people think that increases a story’s credibility rather than decreases it.


This following article is interesting! Some skeptics may say well these news articles are not supposed to be divinely inspired in the way the Gospels are claimed to be, but as the “possible reasons” the author of this article suggests, there may be reasons why God has allowed for their to be so called “seeming discrepancies”.

Harmony #1: News Event

To better illustrate how harmony can be helpful - and is indeed legitimate - let’s consider a set of articles from two leading and trusted news magazines, Time and Newsweek. Below are excerpts from three stories from each magazine of the date September 30, 1996. The topics are:

The investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800;
Possible poison gas effects on Gulf War veterans; and,
The discovery of a North Korean sub off of a South Korean beach.
I am aware that I will be accused of misquoting, quoting out of context, etc. to prove my point. To those who say so: Find my sources and check them yourself. Then challenge me to debate the issue on TheologyWeb, my forum for debate.

Story #1:


“On Thursday investigators learned that on June 10 St. Louis airport police had used the plane as a testing facility for a bomb-sniffing dog, and that the tiny amount of chemicals used to test the dog could be the source of the residue found on the plane parts.”

“…senior officials at the Department of Justice admitted last week that the plane known as TWA Flight 800 had been used to train bomb-sniffing dogs only five weeks before its mysterious destruction July on July 17. That suggests an innocent explanation for the presence of RDX and PETN…in the wreckage of the doomed plane.”

So let’s become a critic and pick these apart.

Was there just one dog (Time) or more than one (Newsweek)?

Was it “investigators who learned” or “officials who admitted”?

How could the date of the test been June 10 when five weeks before July 17 was June 12?

Why are no chemicals named in Time where they are named in Newsweek?

Why isn’t St. Louis mentioned in Newsweek?

It this seems pedantic, know that these are just like “errors” that Bible critics like to point to - such as the “women at the tomb” issue and the story of the healing of the blind men outside Jericho. As Matthew says “two blind men” where Luke and Mark say “a blind man,” it is not said in the latter that there was ONLY one. Likewise, Time’s story COULD be read to indicate just one dog, but not necessarily.

Story #2:


“For five long years, the Pentagon steadfastly insisted there was no evidence that U.S. soldiers were exposed to poison gas during the Gulf War…”

“(Symptoms) includes chronic fatigue, joint ailments, rashes and memory loss.”


“Is Gulf War syndrome a single illness? If so, what causes it, and how many veterans are afflicted? Government agencies have spent five years and $80 million pursuing those questions.”

“(Symptoms) include joint pain, tremors, fatigue, memory loss, and intermittent diarrhea…”

Here’s one for the government conspiracy theorists:

Was the government denying the problem, or pursuing a solution? Obviously, it was doing both simultaneously, as we know. But a historian digging up copies of these magazines 2000 years from now might think that there was an error in the texts.

And then there’s the lists of symptoms - contradictory or complimentary? The latter, definitely; but in each case, the writers of the article just put down what they thought was most important - just as the Gospel writers sometimes did.

Story #3:


“…one night last week, a South Korean taxi driver spotted something like a whale wallowing in the surf.”


“Just after midnight last Wednesday, a taxi chugging along the Kangnung highway on the east coast of South Korea threw its headlights briefly on a group of young men sitting by the roadside…”

“(After dropping off a passenger and returning to the site, the driver said he saw) ‘something that looked like a dolphin or a submarine’ and called police.”

Note how quickly Time deals with this matter, whereas Newsweek delves into some intricate details - just as Mark gives short shrift to some stories that Matthew and Luke expand upon greatly.

Note, too, this difference: Was what the driver saw like a whale, or like a dolphin, or like a submarine? Could the persons translating what the Korean taxi driver said have misunderstood or given their own interpretation to their respective reporters?

If Skeptics accord these magazines the same treatment as they do the Bible, then to be consistent they must also say that these magazines are untrustworthy. But isn’t it more charitable to assume that we have misunderstood something, and look for the solutions to the alleged problems?

Thus a simple example of how these principles may be discovered. But for a much larger illustration, we now turn to:


Thanks for the link! :thumbsup: I have been trying in vain to harmonize the Resurrection account, and believe the one linked to is plausible. IOW, there were several simultaneous happenings Easter Morning (no surprise there.) Therefore, depending on who is narrating the events, different things are mentioned.

My final assurance that the Resurrection narratives are all accurate and without contradiction, is the fact that St. John the Apostle was supposedly familiar with the synoptic Gospels, and as an eyewitness himself, never contradicted anyone, but instead would furnish additional details in his own Gospel that were omitted in the others.

So, for example, assuming the linked to article’s harmonization actually was the case, no contemporary witness would argue against any of the Gospel accounts, since all of them merely brought out different details, without explaining how they all fit together. This would be entirely reasonable and irrelevant to the main theme of the Resurrection itself.


St. Augustine did too, in fact he wrote a whole book about the harmony of the gospels. This chapter is about the resurrection:


I’ve looked into find responses to similar points or questions that you have made. I will post the info I have found. Not all the sources references all the Gospels you cite necessarily. Regarding the time:

Regarding the timing of the women’s trip, the sticky point is John’s claim that they went to the tomb “while it was still dark” (John 20:1). Was it very early in the morning at dawn, or was it still dark? One plausible solution is that the phrases used in the Gospels all refer to the same general time. Much of the sky is still dark when the day begins to dawn very early in the morning.

Perhaps a better solution is that John may have described when the women initially left for the tomb, while the other Gospels described when the women arrived. If they lodged in Bethany, as they had done earlier in the week, then the women would need to travel about two miles to reach the burial site (John 11:18), plenty of time for the sun to rise.

PROBLEM: Mark states that Mary was there “very early in the morning … when the sun had risen” (v. 2). But John says it was “early, while it was still dark” (John 20:1).
SOLUTION: There are two general possibilities here.
One possibility suggests that the phrase “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2) merely denotes early dawn (cf. Ps. 104:22),
when it was “still dark” (John 20:1), relatively speaking.
Another view holds that Mary came alone at first when it was still dark before sunrise (John 20:1), and then again later after sunrise, she returned with the other women (Mark 16:1).
• In support of this is the fact that only Mary is mentioned in John, but Mary and the other women are named in Mark.
• Also, Luke (24:1) says it was “very early in the morning,” implying after sunrise, when the “women” [not just Mary]
had come.
• Likewise, Matthew (28:1) speaks of it being “after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn” that “Mary
Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Only John mentions Mary being there alone “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

Matthew: Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary
Mark: Mary Magdalene, and Mary (mother of James), and Salome
Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (mother of James), and other women
John: Mary Magdalene

Regarding who went to the empty tomb:

John 20:1 doesn’t say Mary Magdalene went to the tomb “ALONE”, it doesn’t say whether or which. Likewise Matt 28:1 doesn’t say ONLY Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb. Mark 16:1-2 tells us Salome went with them (still no contradiction) and Luke 24 suggests there were even more than three women that went to the tomb. The accounts are complimentarily different not contradictory, as we shall see.We know from the other gospels that Mary Magdalene wasn’t alone on her first visit to the tomb but John writes only about HER journey to the tomb in 20:1 because the focus of John’s writing (at this point) is MARY’S story on the day of the resurrection. It makes sense that John would only write briefly about the initial visit to the tomb with minimal details and from MARY’S perspective only, in the lead up to talking about Jesus’ appearance to HER alone (verse 15). Also since Mary Magdalene is the only one of the women that John has already familiarised us with in his book (see 19:25), it makes perfect sense to only talk about HER visiting the tomb, just like it would make perfect sense in any other book to talk about a key person visiting some place without mentioning others who went with him/her, whom the book hasn’t mentioned.
Matt 28:1 probably only mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary because they were the ones that were bringing the spices to the tomb (Mark 16:1) and were perhaps separated by some metres from the rest of the women on the journey and the first to see the open tomb. You’re naturally going to get division into separated groups and couples when more than three people (Luke 24) are walking somewhere. Compare John 19:25 with 19:26 where we see that just because some names are mentioned as being at a certain place (verse 25) the list of names may not actually include EVERYBODY at that place (see verse 26). Alternatively the two Marys and Salome (Matt 28 and Mark 16) could’ve visited the tomb completely separately from the group in Luke 24. Luke could be speaking of different women, a different occasion and a different time of the morning (remember Luke 24:10 is only speaking about who TOLD the disciples, and is not saying that these women went all together) All in all there were at least six women that visited the tomb (Luke 24:10) whether partially together or completely separately, and none of the gospels discount this.

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