An Investigation – the Gospel Resurrection Contradiction
A contradiction between the Matthew and John Gospel Resurrection accounts are cited by critics and skeptics as proof the Gospels lack integrity. On the surface, a contradiction indeed appears to exist, but is there one?
Matthew 28:9 says the women at the empty tomb, which includes Mary Magdalene, hurried to tell the Disciples of their experience and were interrupted with a Resurrection appearance by Jesus. John 20:12-16 details Mary Magdalene’s lone Resurrection experience with Jesus at the tomb. How can both be correct?
Two primary questions – did “they” in Matthew 28:9 include Mary Magdalene and secondly, when did the event occur? Four accounts in the form of the Gospels chronicle the Resurrection events of Jesus of Nazareth providing a much fuller context of what actually happened.
In the investigative world questions arising from statements, as they always do, would typically be used in an interview to fill in the blanks. Interviews not being possible leaves only the comparison of the accounts themselves. Word usage and the Greek texts provide further insights.
Matthew names two women, Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary,” present at the tomb during the angelic incident. Mark and Luke together also identify other women: Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome and “other women” of Galilee.
Many or all the women of Galilee hastily went back into Jerusalem to tell the Disciples about their angelic experience at the empty tomb, not knowing where or how the body had been mysteriously “taken.” Only two Disciples are present when they arrive – Peter and John.
Running to see the empty tomb for themselves, Peter and John are followed by Mary Magdalene. She waited as they inspected the empty tomb, then stayed behind alone weeping after they went back home. Time required for this interlude is subjective although measured in hours rather than minutes.
It then happened – the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Afterwards, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Questions: are “the disciples” still only Peter and John; where are the other women from Galilee?
Understandably excited, Mary Magdalene had wanted to hug Jesus, but he did not want her to do that saying, don’t “haptou me.” Its Greek meaning is a very important detail.
Appearing in the Greek texts of the New Testament 36 times, haptou is most commonly translated as “touch” or “touched” in 86% of the instances. The King James Bible translates haptou in John 20:17 as “touch me not” because Jesus had yet ascended to “My Father.”
A disparity exists with other translations of John 20:17. Of 30 English Bible translations, only slightly more than half translate haptou using a form of “touch.” The remainder use variations that involve touching such as “hold” and “cling.”
Applying the most common translations of haptou as “touch” to John 20:17, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to “touch” him because he had not yet ascended to “My Father.” Matthew 28:9, not using the word haptou, says the women were allowed to touch Jesus and worship him. In the interim, based on these two accounts, Jesus has ascended to his Father.
Greek text words of kai idou beginning the sentence of Matthew 28:9 offer more clues that the Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the women did not occur immediately after leaving the tomb. The true meaning of the Greek words, again, are important factors.
A conjunction, kai is interpreted nearly all the same in English Bible translations. The word appears over 9000 times in the New Testament Greek texts where, in about 98% of instances, kai is interpreted as “and.”
Second is idou, appearing about 200 times in the New Testament Greek texts, where almost 90% are translated with English words of exclamation that do not denote a specific point of occurrence in the narrative, such as “Behold,” “Look,” and “lo.” Barely more than a tenth of the translations use a word that indicates a specific point such as “now” and “here.”
Another translation disparity exists with Matthew 28:9. Slightly more than only half of 30 English translations use words that do not establish a precise moment, such as “Suddenly,” “Behold,” and “Look.” On the flip side, a little less than half of English translations use words or phrases indicating the encounter occurred immediately after leaving the empty tomb, such as “Just then,” “As they went,” “But,” and “As they were going.”
Applying the most common English translations of kai idou to Matthew 28:9, the verse would begin with something like, “And look” or “And behold.” Neither denotes a specific point in time when Jesus appeared to the women as they were on their way to tell their news to the Disciples.
An actual eyewitness statement is always valuable and Luke quotes Cleopas who said of that morning, “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
Cleopas corroborates John’s Gospel on four details: “some” is not all the Disciples; the women reported their experience; and they saw an empty tomb. Most significantly, the women had not yet encountered the resurrected Jesus.
Timeline details are also more clearly defined when Luke says Cleopas and his unnamed traveling partner “were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.” Cleopas further states, “…it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” How long does it take to walk 7 miles? Probably less than 2 hours. Working backward, the pair had left Jerusalem early to mid-afternoon.
Hurrying back to Jerusalem to report their Resurrection appearance by Jesus in Emmaus, it was probably a faster paced trip of much less than two hours. Easter sunset in Jerusalem was around 6:00pm in the pre-Daylight Savings Time era.
Rejoining the gathering of Jesus’ followers back in Jerusalem around supper time with all eleven Disciples present, everyone shared their stories of that Resurrection day. It is revealed Jesus had appeared to Peter, too.
Summarizing the chain of events from the investigative information, the women of Galilee, including Mary Magdalene, ran back into the City and reported their angelic experience at the empty tomb to Peter and John. Only these two Disciples, followed by Mary Magdalene, went back outside the City to the see for themselves that the tomb is indeed empty. The women from Galilee are no longer present.
Completely understandable, the women already had a traumatic angelic experience at the tomb – why go all the way back outside the City to see an empty tomb again? Besides, the angels had instructed them to tell the Disciples and they had only told two up to now.
Marveling, Peter and John went back home leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb mourning when Jesus appeared to her. Afterwards she ran back to tell the Disciples, presumably still only Peter and John.
In the afternoon, Clopas with his traveling partner, left Jerusalem for Emmaus. He only had knowledge of the women’s angelic empty tomb experience that morning – he is not aware of any reports of Jesus Resurrection appearances.
Later that evening, Clopas and his traveling partner rejoined all the Disciples and others at supper time. It was not until then that everyone learned of the Resurrection appearances by Jesus that day. This included an appearance to Peter which occurred sometime after he returned home from the empty tomb that morning.
From this investigative information, the conclusion can be drawn that the Resurrection appearances by Jesus occurred during the afternoon to Mary Magdalene, the women from Galilee and to Peter. It is even quite possible Mary Magdalene was present at both Resurrection appearances to the women of Galilee.
Two distinct Resurrection appearances to the women at different times are described in Matthew 28:9 and John 20:12-16 corroborated in Luke by Clopas. At the very least, a Gospel conflict cannot be confirmed by the evidence and, at the most, the timeline of events in the Gospel accounts fit each other without any disagreements. Is there actually a Gospel Resurrection conflict?
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 Matthew 28:1. “Archaeological Sites in Jerusalem: Burial Sites & Tombs of the Second Temple Period.” 2020. Jewish Virtual Library. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/burial-sites-and-tombs-in-jerusalem-of-the-second-temple-period> Schaalje, Jacqueline. “Tombs in Jerusalem’s Valleys.” Archaeology in Israel. 2001. <http://www.jewishmag.com/47mag/jerusalemtombs/jerusalemtombs.htm>
 Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:10.
 John 20:2. NKJV. Luke 24:10. CR Mark 16:10.
 John 20:10-17; Mark 16:9.
 John 20:18. NRSV.
 “haptomai <680>”. NetBble.net. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=680> “ἁψάμενος.” BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/apsamenos_680.htm> “ἅπτου.” BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/haptou_680.htm>
 John 20:17. NetBible.org. 2020. http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=20&verse=17>
 John 20:l7. BibleHub.com. Parallel. <https://biblehub.com/john/20-17.htm> John 20:17. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=20&verse=17>
 “kai.” Netbible.org. Matthew 28:9. kai <2532>. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2532> Matthew 28:9. Footnote 1. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=28&verse=9#> “kai.” BibleHub.com. Strong’s Greek 2532. 2011. <https://biblehub.com/parallel/matthew/28-9.htm>
 “kai <2532>.” NetBible.org. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/2532.htm>; <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2532>
 “idou <2400>.” NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2400> Matthew 28:9. Footnote 1. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=28&verse=9#> “2400. idou.” BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/2400.htm> “idou.” BibleHub.com. Strong’s Greek 2400. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/parallel/matthew/28-9.htm>
 Matthew 28:9. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/matthew/28-9.htm> Matthew 28:9. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=28&verse=9>
 Matthew 28:9. BibleHub.com. Interlinear. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/28-9.htm> Matthew 28:9. BibleHub.com. Lexicon. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/28-9.htm>
 Luke 24:24. NASB. CR Mark 16:12.
 Luke 24:13. NASB.
 Luke 24:29. NASB.
 “Jerusalem, Israel — Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, April 2020.” TimeAndDate.com. 2020. <https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/israel/jerusalem?month=4>
 Luke 24:33-35, 41-43.