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Old September 29, 2003, 01:43 AM
Chris H.
Posts: n/a
Default Two Gospel Inconsistencies Examined

A little later than planned, but here 'tis.

First, some general but helpful comments about the N.T. Gospels:

As Phil mentioned, each of the Gospels stresses some elements of Christ's life and ignores others, according to each author's purpose for writing. Matthew's audience was the Palestinian Jews, so he emphasizes Jesus's being the Messiah and King who fulfills the promises & predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. He includes many quotations from the O.T. and devotes attention to details about contemporary Jewish life and religious customs. Matthew also pays particular attention to Jesus' teaching ministry and tends to group together into blocks sections that have similar intructional themes.

Mark, on the other hand, concentrates on Jesus as the Conqueror over Satan, sin, sickness & death. He emphasizes Jesus the Man, the Servant who suffered, focussing on His actions & redemptive deeds over philosophy & theology. He stresses Christ as the "Son of God" and Redeemer. Mark travelled with Peter quite a bit, and it is quite possible that much of his Gospel is a summarization of Peter's presentation of Christ's life & works. It is usually considered the first written, though some prefer Matthew.

Luke's purpose was to present a (relatively) complete, historically accurate biography of Jesus as the perfect "Son of Man", showcasing His virtues and incredible tenderness in dealing with people. This is particularly evident in his telling of Jesus' dealings with women & children, as well as social outcasts like lepers & Samaritans. As an educated Greek physician, Luke took special interest in medical matters and in Christ's healing miracles. His Gospel also pays the most attention to presenting events in chronological order.

John's purpose was to show his readers that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing [they might] have life in His name." (20:31) Unlike the Synoptists, John used a highly selective, stylized presentation, organized around seven miracles that Jesus performed, "signs" that revealed His Divine nature. (Note: The number 7 signifies perfection or completion in Jewish culture.) Each of these is rooted in O.T. understanding of the Messiah, thus helping to point to Jesus as the fulfillment of O.T. promises, and that He alone offers everlasting life.

> Jesus Birth - what we all know as the
> nativity scene. Not all four Gospels have
> Jesus in a barn in a food trof.

Let's step thru the events and the data given & not given:

Mark & John don't speak of the time around this event at all. In Luke 2, we have Joseph & the expectant Mary trekking from Nazareth down to Bethlehem for the census. The town is overcrowded, so they have to stay in the stable at an inn. Mary went into labor at some point while they were there and gave birth. She wrapped the baby in cloths & laid Him in a manger (aka a food trough). That night some local shepherds stopped in, after having been told where to find them by an angel.

On the eighth day, they circumcised the baby & named Him Jesus. According to Levitical law, Mary had to wait 33 "days of purification" (not sure if the first 8 days were included) before she could enter the sanctuary and perform the customary sacrifice. (They were poor, so it was probably a couple pigeons.) They may have still been "camping" in the stable, or not -- it doesn't say. Verse 22 says that after this time was up, they went up to Jerusalem (roughly 3 or 4 miles) to consecrate the baby and offer another sacrifice (i.e., a couple more pigeons). When they were done there (probably not more than a couple days), they returned to Nazareth.

Okay, Matthew 2 starts out saying, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem... Magi from the east came to Jerusalem..." It doesn't say how long after Jesus was born that they arrived in Jerusalem. Also, they knew the prophecy said He would come from Bethlehem, so either the stop in Jerusalem was a "courtesy call" to King Herod, or they thought the baby was part of Herod's family and would have been taken to Jerusalem by then. Verses 9-11 say they followed the star to a house, where they found the child & mother; they worshipped Him and presented their gifts. It isn't explicit in the text, so the house could have been in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or even Nazareth.

After the Magi left, an angel told Joseph in a dream that Herod was looking to kill the child and they should flee to Egypt, which they did that night. (The family would move back to Nazareth after Herod died.) Meanwhile, Herod realized the Magi weren't going to bring him the child. "...[H]e was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (v.16)

So, I think there is enough info there to realize that, despite what the kids books and Christmas cartoons and Nativity scenes usually portray, the Magi did not visit the newborn Jesus at the manger, or possibly even in Bethlehem. The child was probably at least several days, if not weeks or months, old by the time they arrived, and the family had already moved out of the stable. Furthermore, based on the scope of Herod's order in verse 16, it is very likely that the natal star appeared as an announcement of a completed event rather than a forwarning, and that the Magi took at least a year to organize & take their "road trip" to Jerusalem. This would make Jesus between 1 & 2 years old (and probably in his hometown of Nazareth) when the Magi finally found him.

> Jesus' ressurection at the cave. Different
> people. Different numbers. Important people
> left out some times and other have them
> there.

This one is a bit more complicated, since there are indeed 4 separate accounts: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18. Let me see if I can put it all together and then comment on the discrepancies.

Early Sunday morning, at least three women return to the tomb where Jesus had been laid, intending to rewrap His body with additional spices. Matthew (v.1) only names Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary"; Mark (v.1) names the two Marys, referring to the second as "the mother of James", and Salome; Luke (v.1,10) names the two Marys & Joanna & mentions "other women"; John (v.1) mentions only Mary Magdalene.

Sometime before the women reached the tomb, an angel of the Lord descended and caused an (apparently very localized) earthquake to role the large stone away from the entrance. The guards were so scared that they had fainted. The women entered the tomb and saw that Jesus' body was missing. Confused, they then noticed two young men (i.e., angels) in shining garments standing by them. The women were afraid, but the lead angel told them "Do not be afraid... He is risen... see the place where He lay... go quickly and tell His disciples... He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him...".

The women left the tomb and ran back to town, not stopping to talk to anyone. When they reached the place where the mourning disciples were staying, they told what they had seen and the message given them. No one believed them. (Women weren't usually considered reliable witnesses in that culture.) But Simon Peter and another disciple ("whom Jesus loved") ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They saw that the body was missing and the burial linens lying folded; they believed and returned to the city. (Apparently, the angels weren't required to appear to them.)

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene (and possibly other women) had followed them back to the tomb at a slower pace -- perhaps tired, perhaps still afraid. It isn't clear if Simon Peter & the other ignored M.M., or if they took a different route back and didn't see her. Now she stood weeping outside the tomb, still thinking the corpse had been moved somewhere by someone. (She must have been so distraught, or perhaps a little airheaded, that the angel's words hadn't sunk in, yet.) When she stooped to look inside, she saw the two angels again, this time sitting. After a brief exchange with them, she turned around and saw another man standing there.

It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize Him -- perhaps due to her tears & state of mind, perhaps his appearance was somehow altered, maybe he was in shadow or wore a hood. Thinking He might be the gardener, she questioned Him about the missing body. When He addressed her by name, she cried "Master!" and began to "cling" to Him (perhaps grabbing His feet, as told in Matthew's account). But, He gave her a message for the disciples and sent her back to them.

There are other minor differences between the accounts, but the main questions you raised were regarding the dramatis personae. These can be summed up as follows:

1) The Women: Each Gospel writer names a different "set" or individual, MM being the only constant

2) The Guards at the Tomb: Only Matthew mentions their presence

3) First Angelic Encounter: Matthew & Mark mention only one angel; Luke mentions two angels; John doesn't describe the encounter at all

4) Jesus' appearance to the women: In Matthew, it sounds like Jesus greeted the women on their way back from the tomb the first time. But, John indicates that it was after visiting the tomb the second time (and it was only MM).

5) Peter's trip to the tomb: Luke & John mention it, but only John mentions "the other disciple" that accompanied him

6) Second Angelic Encounter: Only John mentions that Mary Magdalene followed the men back to the tomb and had a second angelic encounter

7) Who first saw Jesus?: Mark mentions that "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene", but only John gives details on the meeting; was anyone else with M.M. at the time?

I think it is worth remembering that women were second-class citizens in that culture. While Jesus (and later the disciples) taught that women were to be respected and basically treated as equals, at this point His followers were still trying to "digest" much of what He taught. It would not be surprising if they fell back into old habits during this traumatic time. This is evidenced by the fact that no one believed the women's initial report and is one possible explanation for why Peter apparently said nothing to her on his return from the tomb.

It is also a good reason for why very few women were actually named as present during these events at & near the tomb. It is/was not unusual to leave out non-central characters when re-telling a story -- all the more reason if they were "just women". It is interesting that the angels and Jesus appeared first to women disciples rather than men. Perhaps as another reminder that "women are people, too"? I think it is significant that Mary Magdalene was the only woman named in all four accounts. She had a somewhat unique role in Jesus' ministry both before & after His death (as see here), and perhaps the Gospel writers couldn't ignore that. As for why one mentions Joanna and another Salome, your guess is as good as mine. (Maybe they were related to the respective writers? Maybe they were somewhat known for telling their own eyewitness accounts?)

Matthew seems to have opted for a much compacted version of the scene(s) at the tomb. (It wasn't the first time he did something like that.) He pretty much included the basics -- angel rolled stone away, women saw the tomb was empty, angel tells them what happened and gives instructions, Jesus makes first post-resurrection appearance -- and leaves it at that. Perhaps he relied on others to include further detail. Perhaps he included detail about the guards -- first fainting and later reporting to chief priests & receiving bribe (v.11-15) -- because no one else had.

Regarding the angel(s) involved in the first encounter, I notice that Matthew & Luke say these beings shone quite brightly (i.e., "like lightning"). It occurs to me that, if the second was very close to or perhaps behind the lead angel (i.e., presumably the one that caused the earthquake), he might have been obscured from at least some of the women's view, or perhaps the radiance was so blinding that they only noticed one before being half-blinded. If Matthew and/or Mark read an account by one of these women or interviewed one, that would have been what went in their Gospels. On the other hand, Luke states in the opening of his Gospel that he was aware of several eyewitness accounts that had been "handed down" and that he had "investigated everything", so it would not be surprising that he got the "full story" about there being two angels.

Again, I think Matthew telescoped the events in his account, so that Jesus' appearing to Mary Magdalene (and other women?) actually happened after she/they visited the tomb the second time. John indicates from Jesus' speech that M.M. clung or held onto Him. Matthew says that He greeted them and "They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him." Perhaps when M.M. had the second angelic encounter in the tomb, the other women remained a few paces off, until they saw her talking to Jesus, and then the women joined them. Or, perhaps they were a few minutes behind M.M. and only reached the tomb about the time Jesus revealed himself to M.M.

Finally, we come to the men's visit to the empty tomb. First, in case you aren't aware, the disciple "whom Jesus loved" is generally recognized as the Gospel-writer John himself. I think he was the youngest of the Twelve, maybe only a teenager, which may have something to do with why Luke neglected to mention him. The fact that it was John himself is probably why he was sure to include it in detail in his own account. (What an exciting thing to experience!) While Peter's (and perhaps John's) confirmation of the women's report was important, Matthew & Mark's not mentioning it might have been because neither Jesus nor the angels appeared to them (at that time). If Matthew relied heavily on Mark as some think, or vice versa, perhaps one just followed the other's lead on this one. But, if Mark was indeed relating Peter's recollections, it does seem odd that he left out Peter's part in this story.

Not being an expert in any of this, I'm sure there are other considerations that I'm not aware of. There may be another equally or more valid way to harmonize the accounts. But, that's my best shot -- for now.


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