Contradictions in the Resurrection Account

A Swiss Army knife with dozens of crazy "blades"How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection?  Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3).  But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).

When Jesus died, did an earthquake open the graves of many people, who walked around Jerusalem and were seen by many?  Only Matthew reports this remarkable event.  It’s hard to imagine any reliable version of the story omitting this zombie apocalypse.

The different accounts of the resurrection are full of contradictions like this.  They can’t even agree on whether Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover (John) or the day after (the other three).

  • What were the last words of Jesus?  Three gospels give three different versions.
  • Who buried Jesus?  Matthew says that it was Joseph of Arimathea.  No, apparently it was the Jews and their rulers, all strangers to Jesus (Acts).
  • How many women came to the tomb Easter morning?  Was it one, as told in John?  Two (Matthew)?  Three (Mark)?  Or more (Luke)?
  • Did an angel cause a great earthquake that rolled back the stone in front of the tomb?  Yes, according to Matthew.  The other gospels are silent on this extraordinary detail.
  • Who did the women see at the tomb?  One person (Matthew and Mark) or two (Luke and John)?
  • Was the tomb already open when they got there?  Matthew says no; the other three say yes.
  • Did the women tell the disciples?  Matthew and Luke make clear that they did so immediately.  But Mark says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  And that’s where the book ends, which makes it a mystery how Mark thinks that the resurrection story ever got out.
  • Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb?  That makes sense—the tomb was empty and Jesus’s body was gone.  At least, that’s the story according to John.  But wait a minute—in Matthew’s account, the women were “filled with joy.”
  • Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus?  Of course!  She’d known him for years.  At least, Matthew says that she did.  But John and Luke make clear that she didn’t.
  • Could Jesus’s followers touch him?  John says no; the other gospels say yes.
  • Where did Jesus tell the disciples to meet him?  In Galilee (Matthew and Mark) or Jerusalem (Luke and Acts)?
  • Who saw Jesus resurrected?  Paul says that a group of over 500 people saw him (1 Cor. 15:6).  Sounds like crucial evidence, but why don’t any of the gospels record it?
  • Should the gospel be preached to everyone?  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to “teach all nations.”  But hold on—in the same book he says, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5).  Which is it?

Many Christians cite the resurrection as the most important historical claim that the Bible makes.  If the resurrection is true, they argue, the gospel message must be taken seriously.  I’ll agree with that.  But how reliable is an account riddled with these contradictions?

I’ve seen Christians respond in three ways.

(1) They’ll nitpick the definition of “contradiction.”  Contradictions, they’ll say, are two sentences of the form “A” and “not-A.”  For example: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” and “Jesus was not born in Bethlehem.”  Being precise helps make sure we communicate clearly, but this can also be a caltrop argument, a way of dodging the issue.  These sure sound like contradictions to me, but if you’d prefer to imagine that we’re talking about “incongruities” or “inconsistencies,” feel free.

(2) They’ll respond to these “inconsistencies” by harmonizing the gospels.  That is, instead of following the facts where they lead and considering that the gospels might be legend instead of history, they insist on their Christian presupposition, reject any alternatives, and bludgeon all the gospels together like a misshapen Swiss Army knife.

  • How many women were at the tomb?  Obviously, five or more, our apologist will say.  When John only says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, he’s not saying that others didn’t come, right?  Checkmate, atheists!
  • Why didn’t all the gospels note that a group of 500 people saw Jesus (instead of only Paul)?  Why didn’t they all record the earthquakes and the zombie apocalypse (instead of only Matthew)?  Our apologist will argue that each author is entitled to make editorial adjustments as he sees fit.
  • Was the tomb already open or not?  Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus or not?  Did Jesus remain for 40 days or not?  Should the gospel be preached to everyone or not?  Did the women tell the disciples or not?  Was Jesus crucified the day after Passover or not?  Who knows what he’ll come up with, but our apologist will have some sort of harmonization for these, too.

Yep, the ol’ kindergarten try.

(3) They’ll try to turn this weakness into a strength by arguing that four independent stories (the gospels aren’t, but never mind) shouldn’t agree on every detail.  If they did, one would imagine collusion rather than accurate biography.  Yes, biography and collusion are two possibilities, but another is that this could be legend.

Let’s drop any preconceptions and find the best explanation.

Photo credit: ThinkGeek

Acknowledgement: This list was inspired by one composed by Richard Russell.

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40 thoughts on “Contradictions in the Resurrection Account

  1. Well, there you have all the old canards..all the alleged so called contradictions..Bob ignores all those alleged contradictions have been refuted..Look in “The encylopedia of Bible difficulties “..By Archer..Each argument Bob raises are refuted…Also Bob look up “Telescoping” that is what is happening in the Gospel accounts… Another example of nothing new under the sun in Bob’s athesitic worldview.

    • That’s it? That’s your rebuttal? That some other guy, you think, did this work for you?

      I have Archer’s book. A rationalization to satisfy a preconception isn’t what I’m looking for. You think my points have been refuted? Then don’t tell me someone else has done your heavy lifting for you–do it yourself. Give me the argument and let’s see if it stands up.

  2. Pingback: Why preterism is dumb.

  3. Well, Bob your article says “CONTRADICTIONS” of the reserection account. Being the laws of logic are absolute, abstract, and universal.. We will use the absolute meaning of a contradiction. Otherwise we can not have reason and rational conversation..And none of you bullet points are CONTRADICTIONS. They are all Logical accounts..All follow the 4 laws of logic.. Sorry Bob. Just because each author of the synoptic Gospels tell different stories from different angles of what happened..And just because some give more details than the others . Has nothing to do with them CONTRADICTING each other.
    Sorry Bob you did not give one example of a CONTRADICTION.

    The Athieist worlview which cannot account for logic, tries to use the laws of logic to their own subjective opinion. Sorry Bob the second law of logic only proves that the Gospel accounts are accurate. Again the Atheistic worldview is bankrupped, it can not account for logic.

    Sorry

    • BC:

      Well, Bob your article says “CONTRADICTIONS” of the reserection account.

      And indeed they are in common parlance.

      none of you bullet points are CONTRADICTIONS.

      A great example of Christian response #1, which I address above. Thanks.

      Sorry Bob you did not give one example of a CONTRADICTION.

      Do you want to hide behind a smokescreen or do you want to come out and actually defend your views?

      The Athieist worlview which cannot account for logic …

      And yours can? Show me.

      • Hi Bob,

        If all that exists is matter in motion (in space, let’s say), then what is the status of the laws of logic and other eternal truths? They are not discovered by scientists studying the world, because they assume them from the outset.

        And they are not mere linguistic constructs, because they don’t appear to us to be arbitrary and conventional. And that’s why logicians wherever they are can agree.

        So what are they?

  4. Hi Bob,

    But what do you mean by “properties of reality”? Is reality a substance that has properties? Where do eternal truths fit into a mechanical account of the world? We can study matter, energy, space, time, by science, but what about eternal truths?

    And besides, eternal truths are infinite in number. How can an infinite amount of something exist in the world?

    Wouldn’t it make sense if eternal truths were aspects of the infinite essence of God?

    • RF2:

      But what do you mean by “properties of reality”? Is reality a substance that has properties? Where do eternal truths fit into a mechanical account of the world? We can study matter, energy, space, time, by science, but what about eternal truths?

      Don’t know. Don’t much care. Should I? Or is this just a manufactured “problem” with a solution already in mind?

      Wouldn’t it make sense if eternal truths were aspects of the infinite essence of God?

      How does that help? You ask: What grounds logic? And then you give the answer: God did it.

      Seems to me that “God did it” is a solution searching for a problem, and you’ve found one with “What grounds logic?”

      “God did it” is simply a repackaging of “I don’t know.” “God did it” tells us nothing new. I’m no smarter after hearing “God did it” than before. How did God do it? Why did God do it? This is an answer that simply brings forth yet more questions.

      Only if you want a pat on the head and a lollipop will this answer satisfy you.

      And, of course, it’s perhaps the boldest claim possible with no evidence given. Is there a god that grounds logic? I need the evidence to back up this claim.

      • Hi BobS,

        You are misrepresenting my stance. I don’t claim that eternal truths are “created” by God as if they were things like stars and trees. My argument is not a god of the gaps. Eternal truths, instead, subsist in God’s essence, they are a part of his infinite intelligibility. Eternal truths, like the principle of contradiction, are different aspects of the divine essence, just as our height and our weight are different aspects of us.

        Also, it’s possible that God does not know eternal truths the same way as we do. He would know the same truths, but differently.

        Here is my objections: if eternal truths exist apart from God, how do they fit into the naturalistic view of the world. The world has mass and energy, and scientists can study them, but they never find the physical cause of eternal truths.

        Also, there is an infinite amount of eternal truths as we know them. They could never be exhausted by an encyclopedia. So if eternal truths don’t exist in an infinite beings, they exist in the world of platonic Forms. But that explanation is not parsimonious and it is possibly incoherent (how can there be an infinite amount of something outside of our mind: would that amount be even or odd?

      • RF2:

        You are misrepresenting my stance.

        Not intentionally. Sorry.

        if eternal truths exist apart from God, how do they fit into the naturalistic view of the world. The world has mass and energy, and scientists can study them, but they never find the physical cause of eternal truths.

        Again, this line of thinking doesn’t do much for me. Yes, this is an interesting question, but I don’t see it as an attack at all on the naturalist position because (1) “I don’t know” is the naturalist position on lots of things and maybe we’ll get something better with time and (2) I don’t see the Christian as having any stronger or more complete or more interesting position.

  5. Another inconsistency from Athesit Bob.. A while back he said the only reason he attacks Christianity is because Christians do not play fair..And he ( BOB) is concerned about Chrsitianity and the constitution..And Chrsitianity and Government. And prayer in school, and intelligent design..That is what his fight is about..But notice the hypocracy, and inconsistentcy of his claim.. What does he blog about? The false FAITH of Chrsitians, the Alleged contradictions of the reserection. We can see that Bob lied about his agenda. But in his worldview Bob is acting accroding to his relativism.. As Romans 1 says Bob know this God but rejects God in his unrighteousness.. Bob hates this God and knows this God in his heart. That is why he says one thing but we see him attacking the Doctrines of the Triune God..Not the social problems he calims to be after.

    And I Agree with Random Function 2 Bob tries to sluff off Abstract, invarient, universal Truth, Morality, and Logic.. Because the Athesit worldview can not account for abstract absolutes in a material world..Again Athesim is a bankrupped worldview.

    • We can see that Bob lied about his agenda.

      Whatever. Too nonsensical to rebut.

      Because the Athesit worldview can not account for abstract absolutes in a material world..Again Athesim is a bankrupped worldview.

      You can account for the abstract features of reality better than the atheist? Show me.

  6. Hi BobS,

    You may be missing one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God.

    Again, this argument is not a god of the gaps: it is not a “science-stopper”. So I need not accept “I don’t know” as a valid answer.

    Of course, like all arguments for God (and against God), it’s not impossible that the progress in philosophical thought will disprove it convincingly in the future. But we are in the present, and we need to make up our mind on the best evidence available, not on imaginary evidence.

    Here is what my argument proves:
    1) there is an infinite unitary essence somewhere outside the world.
    2) we have relations with this essence because we have access to eternal truths, which are part of its content. But if we have such relations, it is a good guess that it is because the essence created us. Because I don’t see how matter in motion could create this infinite essence.

    • RF2:

      Here is what my argument proves:
      1) there is an infinite unitary essence somewhere outside the world.
      2) we have relations with this essence because we have access to eternal truths, which are part of its content. But if we have such relations, it is a good guess that it is because the essence created us. Because I don’t see how matter in motion could create this infinite essence.

      Your argument seems compelling only because it’s confusing, not because it’s accurate. But perhaps I’m missing something.

      • In the same sense that anyone would. An “infinite uniary essence”? This is not common parlance.

        When you want to prove the existence of someone, there are lots of ways that would satisfy someone. But in the case of God, Christians are left with incredibly obtuse, indirect ways of suggesting a clue to his existence.

  7. To Ramdon Function 2

    Thanks for the Forum info, I will check it out tonight.
    P.S. Come on the CARM chat tonight and introduce yourself to me. I go by the name VACCA. Usuallt there from 6:00 pm to 8.00 PM ( AZ time)

    • To BobC,

      Well, thanks for the invitation, but I don’t like chatrooms. But if you come to the forum I pointed to you, I’m celestial teapot (NOT Random Function). Currently, the forum has a shortage of Christians. Which is bizarre, given that the purpose of the forum was for Christians to debate with atheists and other religions.

  8. Hi BobS,

    It’s not common parlance, but philosophy has its own jargon. We don’t argue against science on the ground that it uses words like “singularity”, “entropy”, “punctuated equilibrium”, “evolutionary stable strategies”, “modular mind” and so on…

    My argument was defended by Augustine, Leibniz and some thomists.

      • Hi Bob,

        I searched in a philosophy database, but I only found one relevant paper, and it’s quite obscure.

        But you may try: in Leibniz, Monadology; in Augustine: On The Free Choice of The Will.

        You could search on google with the words “Eternal truths” and “God”.

  9. Random,
    I have never used a forum, but I did sign up.. My user name is Vacca..Of course when I got there I had no Idea what to do ? So I left? LOL. Chat is so much easier with instant replies..
    So what do I do when I get there?

    • To BobC,

      You click on the titles of the subforums (for instance “God” or “Science”), then you see a list of “threads”, each with its title. Then you can start a new thread or leave replies in threads made by other people, and then start to interact with members. It’s a bit like blogs, except that in blogs, only the owner can start new discussions…

      • To BobC,

        Also, I think you need to confirm your subscription by looking at your emailbox and clicking on a link (follow the instructions given there).

  10. Bob,
    There are many evidences for the Triune God..The issue is ones presuppositions.

    I know you are a computer engineer kinda guy..So here is an evidence for God that you can relate to.

    Designs:
    Always based on Languages & symbols, and always require a designer:
    1) Plans, Music,Maps, Instructions
    2) Human languages: English,Chinese, Spanish
    3) Computer languages: HTML,JPG,C++, TCP/IP,USB
    4) DNA

    All designs start with a symbolic representation of ideas through a code, which is always designed by a mind.
    How DNA works:
    Encodes all information necessary for life
    Double Helix- Divides and complementary bases attach to make copies
    4-Character Alphabet of Adenine,Thymine, Cytosine,Guanine
    A,T,C,G are comparable to binary 1 and 0 in computers
    # of Characters in DNA: 500,000 ( single cell parasite) to 3 billion ( human)
    DNA is an encoding/decoding mechanism
    Linguistics Analysis is used extensively to analyze DNA

    Proof that DNA was designed by God:
    1) DNA is not just a molecule- it is a coding system with a language and alphabet, and contains a message
    2) All languages, codes and messages come from a mind
    3)Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

    So for Bob to deny DNA was designed by God..Bob will have to show us a message that does not come from a mind..

    • So for Bob to deny DNA was designed by God..Bob will have to show us a message that does not come from a mind..

      DNA is like a message. Doesn’t mean that it is.

      How about if I show that DNA didn’t come from a designer–at least in its present form?

      Here’s a chart that documents the c-value enigma.

      C-value is simply a proxy for DNA length, so the axis along the bottom goes from small DNA length to the left to large DNA length to the right.

      At the top you see “mammals.” That’s us, obviously. But notice the things that have more DNA than humans do–salamanders, lungfish, even algae. The onion has five times more DNA than humans! And the winner is: a protozoa that has 200 times longer DNA than we do.

      Designers can pick from lots of criteria when they design–durability, longevity, fewest materials, etc., but they never just throw in material just for the heck of it. Does the onion really need more DNA than humans? Does a protozoa? Or is there slop in the DNA of those organisms that a designer would never put in?

  11. To all,

    We may metaphorically say that DNA is a message, a code, if such a metaphor is helpful for understanding it, but it is a “message” that only implies a “blind watchmaker”. Because we already know of a natural process that can create such a code and give it an appearance of design: evolution by mutation and selection!

  12. Sory Bob you did not answer the question:

    Show us a message that does not come from a mind?
    DNA is not just a molecule- it is a coding system with a language and alphabet, and contains a message
    All languages, codes and messages come from a mind

    • Sory Bob you did not answer the question:

      You just gonna ignore my previous post?

      Show us a message that does not come from a mind?

      Don’t know of one. Why–do you have a message in mind? I don’t see DNA is one.

      DNA is not just a molecule- it is a coding system with a language and alphabet, and contains a message

      You could imagine it as such. Doesn’t mean that it is one.

  13. Bob Said:

    DNA is not just a molecule- it is a coding system with a language and alphabet, and contains a message

    You could imagine it as such. Doesn’t mean that it is one.

    Well yes it does mean DNA is a language..And as our language is made up of Characters, letters, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs.. So is the DNA molecule.

    And here is how that works

    The language of DNA:

    DNA Nucleotide= Character
    DNA Codon=Letter
    DNA Gene=Word
    DNA Operon=Sentence
    DNA Regulon=Paragraph

    So Bob show us a message or Language that does not come from a mind.. Bob it does not exist. Naturalism does not produce Language, Alphabet, Syntax, that contains a message, with a speaker and receiver. Give one example of a language or message that does not come from a mind. You cannot!

    BUT,

    Bob if you have noticed I have never given you evidence for the existence of God ( until I brought up the DNA example, which I did to prove a point) because evidence does not save anyone. Salvation is the gift of God that He gives to those He elects.

    Lets say you agreed that the DNA argument proved the Triune God and you converted and became a Christian..Then 2 years later someone comes with better evidence to prove God does not exist and you jumped on that idea and deconverted. See my point whomever has the best argument determines your faith. That is why the evidential method is unbiblical and sinful for the Christian to use.

    Probably most the Christians you dealt with are evidentailist and shame on them..I believe that is actually sinful for a Christian to do..

    The Bible, Jesus , or the Apostles never use evidence to prove God.. The Bible, Jesus, and the Apostles presuppose God. As all men know God in their hearts.

    All I can do is show you that your worldview can not account for reason, intelligence, logic, science, morality or ethics. And all I can do is tell you that you know this God and you are shaking your fist at your creator. And unless you repent you are under the wrath of God, and will suffer for eternity in hell.

    • DNA is not just a molecule- it is a coding system with a language and alphabet, and contains a message

      A message is sent by an intelligent source by definition. By calling DNA a message, you’re putting your conclusion into your assumption.

      Well yes it does mean DNA is a language..And as our language is made up of Characters, letters, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs.. So is the DNA molecule.

      Yes, you can imagine it like that. Doesn’t mean that it was sourced by an intelligence.

      So Bob show us a message or Language that does not come from a mind.

      Excluding DNA, I don’t have one. Now, your turn: show us that DNA is a message.

      Bob if you have noticed I have never given you evidence for the existence of God

      Yeah, I’ve noticed. You’ve been shooting blanks.

      evidence does not save anyone.

      Whatever. I tend to find that when convincing someone of something, it helps to have evidence. But if you want to rely on magic instead, that’s your call.

      Lets say you agreed that the DNA argument proved the Triune God …

      Your DNA “argument” is simply an assumption (“Golly! DNA sure looks like a message! Hey … d’ya think it could’ve come from an intelligence?!”). But even if I accepted it, this is only a deist argument. Why is Yahweh any more likely to be the message source than Allah, Quetzalcoatl, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

      That is why the evidential method is unbiblical and sinful for the Christian to use.

      I’m not sure about “sinful,” but I sort of follow your point. The Good Book says, “Examine carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21). Doesn’t that suggest that you should use evidence? Aren’t reason and brains gifts of God? It would be a shame to waste them.

      The Bible, Jesus , or the Apostles never use evidence to prove God.. The Bible, Jesus, and the Apostles presuppose God. As all men know God in their hearts.

      So you use faith instead? I thought you said that faith = believe built on a strong foundation of evidence (or something like that). No?

      All I can do is show you that your worldview can not account for reason, intelligence, logic, science, morality or ethics.

      Yours can? I mean besides just the assertion, “Yes, it can”? Show me evidence.

      And all I can do is tell you that you know this God and you are shaking your fist at your creator.

      Am I? Are you shaking your fist at Zeus or Brahma?

      And unless you repent you are under the wrath of God, and will suffer for eternity in hell.

      Gotta have the evidence. Otherwise, your claims sound like the claims of any other religion. Should I believe it simply because it’s the predominant belief in my culture?

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