The one history behind the four resurrection accounts

There have been claims made by some posters here, and many opponents of Christianity throughout history, that there are contradictions between the four gospels accounts reports concerning the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. However, according to sources available to Eusebius in the fourth century BC, but no longer available to us, John the Evangelist reportedly saw no errors in any of the other three gospel accounts before writing his own gospel record. So according to John, all four gospels harmonise with one single series of historical events. And having made an in depth evaluation of the four gospels I would concur with John.

There are several keys to weighing the testimony of diverse witnesses that need to be kept in mind.

  1. Sometimes, two or more events may sound similar but may nevertheless have occurred at different times and/or at different places.

  2. Witnesses select and report only some of the details that pertain to any particular event, and neglect others, and those editorial decisions are determined by how much some matters bear heavily on the author’s message versus those that happen to be extraneous to their message.

  3. Before arbitrarily declaring witnesses to be contradicting one another, there needs to be some cross-examination of each witness, giving them an opportunity to account for their omissions or ellipses that may create a first impression of discrepancy.

  4. The absence in the report by one of a detail provided by another does not imply proof that the first writer would deny that the unreported detail of the other ever occurred.

    So, what really happened?

Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary wife of Cleopas, and other women, began to make their way to the tomb before day-break. While they were on their way, there was an earthquake. At the grave-site the stone sealing the tomb rolled away and a fearsome angel sat on it. This terrified the Jewish temple-guards Pilate had allowed to make the tomb secure, so that they fainted. Our Lord revived and was unraveled from his swaddling-cloths by the first-mentioned angel and a second one, who dropped the windings in a pile. Freed from his bandages, Jesus removed the napkin from his head, folded it, placed it apart from the other pile of rags and exited the tomb. The angels disappeared.

The guards awoke, saw no angels, found the tomb empty, could not find Jesus in the garden, so headed off to the sanhedrin to report what had happened.

The women arrived to find the guards gone, and looking into the tomb, saw that Jesus’ body was gone. They assumed that the guards had taken the body away, and sent Mary Magdalene to report this to Peter and the rest. Mary assumed it was gone because the Jews had taken and hidden it, and told the disciples so. Peter and John ran back to the tomb, while Mary was perhaps being treated for shock in the house. Peter and John found it as Mary had said and believed what she had told them (that the Jews had taken Him away) because they did not yet understand that Jesus was going to rise from the dead. Then Peter and John returned home. However, the women remained at the tomb, confused and wondering what had happened.

The women noticed a man in white seated inside the tomb, the angel which had terrified the guards, but in muted form, who told them not to be afraid, Jesus was not there because He had risen, and invited them to inspect the inside. They entered the tomb and the angel added that they should go and tell His disciples that he is alive and will meet them in Galilee. The women were not convinced by this white-garmented young man and were still confused and wondering what the truth was, when suddenly the angel transfigured, and another appeared transfigured with him. This was to convinced the women of their trustworthiness. As messengers from heaven. The women fell down, faces to the ground. The angels asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead, and reminded them that in Galilee Jesus had predicted his crucifixion and resurrection. They remembered this prediction and were convinced and headed off to tell the disciples, but were so afraid that they spoke to no one on their way. They missed meeting Mary Magdalene, who was at that time returning from Peter’s to the garden.

Ironically, as the women were heading off to the disciples to tell them the truth about what had happened to Jesus’ body, the guards were being bribed to publish a lie about the same.

Mary Magdalene arrived to an empty garden, looked inside and saw the two angels, again in muted form so as not to frighten her, who asked her why she was crying. She turns around and sees Jesus, but thinks He’s the gardener. She recognises who He is when he calls her by name. She would like to hug Him but he prevents her because he has not yet presented Himself to the Father in Heaven, which He is about to do to fulfil the vision of Zec 3, and spiritually fulfil the type of the wave-offering of the feast of firstfruits. Mary went off to report all this to the disciples, while Jesus ascended to the Father, as He had just said He would.

While Mary was on her way back to Peter, and after His presentation to the Father, Jesus appeared to the older women still on their way to Peter’s. They grasped Jesus’ feet without any objection from Him at this time. Jesus instructed them to tell His brothers to go to Galilee where they would see Him.

The older women arrived at the disciples’ place synchronously with younger Mary, and together, Mary first and then the others, reported seeing angels and Jesus Himself. Peter ran off to the tomb again, but saw only the empty tomb and returned home, still wondering what happened.

So, the actual series of events, as are the reports written by different historians reporting on any historical occurrence, is significantly more complex than any one historians account. Each historian selects material that contributes to making the points the writer intends to convey.

What were each of the four evangelists hoping to emphasize about Jesus in their particular testimonies that accounts for their choice of included material?

Ezekiel saw two weird visions that included four angels each with four faces: one of a lion, another of a bull, a third of a man and a fourth of an eagle. These four good angels or, in Greek, euangelli/evangels, represented the four Gospels, each story presenting four facets of Christ, but each placing a different facet to the fore.

The lion, king of the jungle, represents Jesus as the promised coming king/ruler/judge and with the consummate ministry of apostleship. Matthew emphasizes Jesus in this aspect most.

The ox, plougher, beast of burden, and sin-sacrifice, represents Jesus as the promised coming suffering servant and the consummate ministry of evangelism. Matthew emphasizes Jesus in this aspect most.

The man represents Jesus as the coming son of man, born if a woman, second Adam and with the consummate pastoral and teaching ministry. Matthew emphasizes Jesus in this aspect most.

The eagle represents Jesus as the coming Son of God, at home in the heavens, descending from heaven, with a perspective from heaven, the promised coming prophet and with the consummate prophetic ministry. Matthew emphasizes Jesus in this aspect most.

I believe these distinctions account very well for the variation in content between the four resurrection accounts. When one notices that this evangelist mentioned sone detail, but that one dis not, imagine cross-examining the evangelist in a court asking the question, “Why didn’t you mention the _____ that so-and-so reported?” If one keeps in mind the differing intended emphases listed above, a persuasive reason should come to mind readily enough.

Excellent description of Ezekiels’ vision! I hadn’t looked at it that way before.