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This article is based upon work done by Murray J. Harris. After the writing of this article, Dr. Harris published “Three Crucial Questions about Jesus” by Murray J. Harris, Baker Books, 1994, ISBN 0-8010-4388-3. A list similar to what appears in this article can be found in the appendix to Dr. Harris’ book, pages 107-109.
The resurrection accounts are eye witness reports. Like any eye witness testimony, the testimony is given from a particular perspective, concerns a particular group that the eye witness was a part of, and at first glance may appear to contain discrepancies compared to other testimony. This is exactly what we would expect to find, if people were giving testimony to an actual event!
If the resurrection was not an actual event in history, but a fabricated story, then there would be no surface differences. A fabricated story would be told from the perspective of the same people and pretty much in the same words and order. That is not what we find in the resurrection accounts. We see the resurrection from the perspective of different eye witnesses with lists of different people (called by different names) approaching the tomb, different numbers of angels, and different individuals seeing Jesus at different times. This is actually a mark of authenticity.
As Tim Keller (author of The Reason for God) writes: “In modern novels, details are added to create the aura of realism, but that was never the case in ancient fiction…. The only explanation for why an ancient writer would mention the cushion, the 153 fish, and the doodling in the dust is because the details had been retained in the eyewitnesses’ memory.”
In other words, New Testament writers would have had to be brilliant enough to create not only an entirely different way of understanding resurrection, but also to create a new literary genre, the modern novel, at least 1,700 years before it came into existence!
We have five (possibly six) different accounts of the resurrection and there are differences in these accounts. But the differences are only apparent, not real. If we judge ancient literature according to the standards of its own time – for example, allowing one author to mention only the main speaker and another author to mention the exact number – then a careful reading of all of the accounts provides a fairly clear picture of what happened during those final 40 days of Jesus’ time on earth.
Here is a harmony of the resurrection accounts found in the gospels and the epistles. Since we weren’t present during those 40 days, any harmony has to be tentative. Other harmonies are certainly possible, but this harmony makes sense of all of the testimony and fits together chronologically.
(i) the women go to the tomb (#3, 7) during that brief period in the early morning that may be called “semi-darkness” (in relation to the night that is ending -thus John) or “semi-light” (in relation to the day that is dawning [thus Matthew and Luke] or has just dawned [thus Mark]).
(ii) Mary Magdalene makes two visits to the tomb; on the second she sees two angels and then Jesus.
(iii) Mary the mother of James and Salome see one angel, and later Mary the mother of James (and possibly Salome) see Jesus.
(iv) Joanna and the women from Galilee make one visit, see two angels, but not Jesus.
(v) Peter makes one visit and later (possibly on a second visit) sees Jesus, but no angel.
|Mt 28:1-20||Mk 16:1-8||Lk 24:1-53||Jn 20:1-29||Jn 21:1-23||Ac 1:6-11||1 Co 15:3-7||Mk 16:9-20|