Jesus is Risen
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
Observations & Reflections
While the passion narrative between the gospels is fairly harmonious, the empty tomb portion seems to diverge greatly between the gospel writers. Luke (among all 4) is the most different of the narratives. To get a better feel for the different version, the parallel passages are below.
|Matthew 28:1-28:10||Mark 16:1-8||Luke 24:1-8||John 20:1-10|
|28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
|When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
|On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”
8 Then they remembered his words.
|Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.
4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,
7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
These 4 versions of the empty tomb leave a lot of questions unanswered.
- Was there a guard (or guards) at the tomb when the girls arrived?
- Why does John only mention Mary Magdalene and not the other women?
- Why don’t Mark, Luke, and John refer to the theophany and the angel who was perched on the stone when the girls arrived? Seems like a major omission.
- If it were the girl(s) that informed the men then why does Mark (the first gospel) state that “they said nothing to anyone”? In all 3 other gospels they hurry to tell the disciples, and Peter.
- Who addressed the women? An angel, an unnamed young man, two dazzling men (angles), or no one at all?
- Every gospel gives a differing account but John omits the visitors completely while having the girls communicating to the disciples that the body was taken. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
- Did the women (and disciples) remember the words of Jesus or did they not? John claims that they were ignorant of the memory and understanding of Jesus’ prophetic words about his death and resurrection.
While some of these questions can be eased a bit by using the hybrid assembly theory by which we can assume that some items in the gospel accounts can be combined to make a more complete story. For example, it’s quite possible that John’s omission of the other women is not because he meant to say that no other women were with Mary. Rather, he was probably only concerned with the woman that would be recognized by his audience or it just wasn’t important to the story to include the others. Additionally, the question of the guard can be resolved by the fact that Matthew doesn’t really say that the women and the guard(s) saw the angel at the same time, however, the other accounts also do not indicate if the guards were still present. It’s probable that Matthew’s account is “fuller” than the others but that he omits the fact that the angel arrived before the women did. Matthew’s wording makes it appear as though the stone was rolled away in front of the women but it’s not clear that that was Matthew’s intention.
However, some details are not reconcilable. For example, was there 1 or 2 angels in the tomb that appeared to the women? Additionally, if we assume the harmony of Mathew’s theophany concerning the stone and earth quake, then one has to assume that 3 angels were there. The first one rolled away the stone and scared the guard(s) and the other two appeared later after they had already entered the tomb. This create yet another issue because then the first appearance and the second appearance to the women would have been redundant since the message was the same. It’s not likely that a first angel appeared to roll away the stone and deliver a message to the woman, and then two more appeared a short time later to deliver the same message. It’s not very logical. It’s more than likely a scribal error or simply just an error of recollection.
These types of differences are not easy to deal with. Biblical literalists will work hard to find ways to try to combine these accounts but it’s really not necessary to the gospel message. When the stories were penned, the gospel writers were less concerned about small details and much more concerned with the big picture items, like the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples (and Paul) afterwords. Moreover, differing details do not negate the main points of the story.
For example, my twin brother and I (yes I have a twin and yes it’s terrifying) often disagree on event details where we were both present. In fact, the older we get the more different our accounts become. However, we still agree on the major points like the fact that something actually took place and that we were both there. Moreover, recall that the gospels were compiled decades apart and some 30-90 years after the death of Christ. Recalling details about our lives from 30 years ago is no picnic. Moreover, many hands were involved in the gospel accounts. They are more of a group effort than we realize. Many differing opinions went into the final editions of these witnesses even though there was originally a base of texts that were more of less attributed to the gospel authors.
There is no reason to question the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection. Even Paul wrote of the resurrection, decades before the gospel writers did. It’s the core of our faith because it was an event that changed the world and it actually happened. Had it not, there would be no reason for the disciples to carry on or for Paul to have a ministry to the people he was once putting to death.
[Featured image: Women at the tomb, Annibale Carraci, 1590]