- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: March 31 2016 March 31 2016
As you have been reading through the Gospel accounts of the resurrection this Easter season you’ve probably come across the various discrepancies in each of the accounts. Why does one Gospel have Mary Magdalene going to the tomb by herself while another has Mary and several other women? Why does one Gospel record one angel at the tomb an another two angels? Why does Luke have Peter running to the tomb while John records Peter and the beloved disciple running to the tomb? There are other less glaring difference as well. What does all this mean?
Over the years skeptics have tried to argue that these discrepancies in the Gospel accounts are glaring contradictions that prove them to be historically unreliable. However, Biblical scholars and historians alike say that just the opposite is true. That is, the various discrepancies in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection actually lend to its historical credibility.
Even with the various differences and details in the Gospel accounts, the central features of the story are the same in all four Gospels. All four record that something completely unexpected happened; the tomb is empty, there is no body, Jesus is not there, He is risen from the dead! The basic message is the same; the resurrection of Jesus is a wonderful surprise! Still, why all the discrepancies?
Rev. Bo Giertz rightly points out; “That’s the way it always is when eyewitnesses recount surprising occurrences, where one thing happens after the other. No one person sees everything. Afterward, you have to try to reconstruct the sequence of events, but it is precisely the variations in the accounts of what happened that prove you are dealing with eyewitnesses. If all the accounts said the same thing, we might suspect the accounts to be doctored and collaborated.” 1
While most of the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts are on a trivial level, the very fact that they are not ironed out shows them to be credible eyewitness accounts. As N.T. Wright notes, if you were a follower of a dead Jesus and making these events up, “you would have done a better job.” 2 The embarrassing admission of unbelief by the women and the Apostles is also not a detail that would show up in a fabricated story. Indeed, “the account’s honesty has an air of reality, which points to its truth.” 3
The various details and apparent discrepancies in the Gospel accounts are indicative of brutally honest and raw eyewitness testimony. As such, these testimonies tell us that something truly wonderful has happened! The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of speculation, nor a mere fantasy made up by the early Church, but an historic event that bears the earth shattering, life changing news: “He is not here. He has risen!”
- Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ (Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 283
- N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003), 680
- Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53 (Baker Academic, 1996), 1882
Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at nettleton@StJohnsFC.org or at 970-305-2420.