A Gospel Contradiction of the Resurrection?
A contradiction is cited by critics and skeptics between the Matthew and John Gospel Resurrection accounts of Jesus of Nazareth as proof the Gospels lack integrity. At first glance, a contradiction indeed appears to exist, but is there really one?
Matthew named two women present at the tomb during the angelic incident, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Mark and Luke together also identify Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome and “other women” of Galilee also at the empty tomb, at least 6 women. Mary Magdalene and the other women hurried to tell the Disciples of their experience.
Matthew reports “they” were interrupted with a resurrection appearance by Jesus seemingly suggesting this incident is the first resurrection encounter. John 20:12-16 details the lone Mary Magdalene Resurrection encounter with Jesus at the tomb strongly suggesting this is the first resurrection encounter. How can both be correct?
Greek text words of kai idou begins the sentence of Matthew 28:9. The true meaning of the Greek words provide important clues as part of the literary assessment.
A conjunction, kai is interpreted the same in almost all English Bible translations. Appearing over 9000 times in the New Testament Greek texts, about 98% translate kai as “and.”
Second is idou, appearing about 200 times in the New Testament Greek texts where over 90% of 32 translations use English words of exclamation that do not denote a specific point of occurrence, such as “Behold,” “Look,” “Suddenly,” or “lo.” Barely more than just 6% use a word that indicates a specific point in time, such as “here” or “now.”
Using the most common English translations of kai idou in Matthew 28:9, the verse would begin with something like, “And look” or “And behold.” Bottom line: the timing of this encounter with the resurrected Jesus is not specific.
MT 28:9 “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” NRSV
Flipping over to John 20:12-16, at least some of the women, including Mary Magdalene, ran to the location of two Disciples, Peter and John. Luke reported that all the Disciples and others were told details of the incident at the tomb, but he doesn’t specifically say when.
Peter and John were followed back to the tomb by Mary Magdalene. John’s account says he and Peter ran back to the tomb followed by Mary. Luke reports that only Peter ran back to see the empty tomb.
Keep in mind, John’s account is an eyewitness statement; Luke’s account is from the perspective of an investigative reporter. Had all the Disciples been present at the location where Mary made her exclamation, logic dictates all would have gone to see the empty tomb with Peter and John. No other Disciples are said to be at the empty tomb.
John’s account does not indicate if the other women of Galilee were with Mary Magdalene when she returned to the tomb – there is no mention of them. Not surprising since these women had already been there and it was a traumatizing experience.
Mary waited as the two Disciples inspected the empty tomb; saw the burial clothes; and marveled at what they had witnessed. Peter and John then returned to the city leaving Mary Magdalene behind, weeping. Time required for this second interlude at the tomb is subjective although it is more than just minutes.
Then it happened, according to John, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene alone. Afterwards, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
JN 20:18 ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” NRSV
An actual eyewitness statement is always of great value. Luke quoted Cleopas’ statement, “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.”
John’s Gospel is corroborated by the statement of Cleopas on key details: women reported their experience at the tomb; the tomb was empty; and only “some” went to verify the empty tomb. Most significantly, no one had encountered the resurrected Jesus.
Along the way home, Cleopas and his partner were unwittingly joined along the way by the resurrected Jesus. The pair invited the stranger to join them for supper when they arrived home.
Walking 7 miles to Emmaus probably took less than 2 hours. Working backward by factoring in additional time to bake bread, prepare and serve supper places the timeline they left Jerusalem in early afternoon. The timeline allows for many other events to happen before they returned to Jerusalem that evening.
Pieces of the puzzle are now coming together. Much of the remaining day remained when the other Disciples could have been informed by the women. Whether Mary Magdalene was with the women of Galilee in the Matthew encounter is not clear; however, based on the preceding Matthew verses, it appears she was there.
A secondary translation disparity is revealed, too, that may play into the timeline. Was Mary Magdalene allowed to “touch” Jesus when he appeared to her?
Jesus appeared at the tomb alone to Mary Magdalene, according to John. Understandably excited, Mary Magdalene wanted to hug Jesus, but his response was don’t haptou or haptomai me. Again, the Greek word’s meaning is a very important detail where translation nuances can make a big difference.
Greek texts of the New Testament have at least 32 various instances of haptomai with 28 instances appearing in the four Gospels. All instances are translated in the NET version as a form of “touch.” The King James Bible translates haptomai in John 20:17 as “touch me not.”
John 20:17 is translated much differently in most other Gospel versions. Greek word haptomai is translated in only about 28% of instances as “touch” or “touched.” The remainder of translations use English words implying that touching has already occurred, such as “hold” and “cling.”
Translated in the manner of the NET and King James Bible, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to “touch” him because he had not yet ascended to “My Father.”
JN 20:17 “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” KJV
Matthew’s account says the “women” wrapped their arms around his feet and worshiped Jesus. The circumstances are completely different between John and Matthew: one vs. many; not touched vs. touched.
Question: did Mary Magdalene touch Jesus? If Mary was not allowed to “touch” Jesus in John’s account because he had not yet ascended to his “Father,” it then corroborates the incident described in Matthew’s account as occurring later in the day, after Jesus had presented himself to God.
Is there really a Gospel Resurrection conflict or were they two different incidents described by the Gospels of Matthew and John?
Updated May 3, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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 “idou.” 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.” Bi-bleHub.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. Bi-bleHub.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> Matthew 28:9. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/matthew/28-9.htm> Matthew 28:9. NetBi-ble.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=28&verse=9>
 “haptomai.” NetBble.net. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=680> “ἁψάμενος.” Bi-bleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/apsamenos_680.htm> “ἅπτου.” BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/greek/haptou_680.htm> 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>
 “haptomai.” NetBble.net. n.d. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=680> “ἁψάμενος.” John 20:17. BibleHub.com. n.d. interlinear. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/20-17.htm> John 20:17. BibleHub.com. n.d. lexicon. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/john/20-17.htm> “G0680.” Lexicon Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0680.html>