Atheist's Attacks

Answering Humanist's Accusations Against the Bible

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Who Got To Jesus' Tomb When?

Are there contradictions in the resurrection stories?

HUMANIST QUESTION: There are even contradictions in the accounts of the resurrection – the supposed event that is the very foundation of the Christian religion.

The Empy Tomb

There are three accusations the humanists make concerning the Sunday morning when the tomb was found to be empty. I'll answer them one at a time. Keep in mind there were a number of different people coming to and going from the tomb that morning. The empty tomb was shocking... unbelievable... and people were running back and forth, to and from the empty tomb. Here's the first one:

Mark 16:2 states that on the day of the resurrection, certain women arrived at the tomb at the rising of the sun. But John 20:1 informs us they arrived when it was yet dark.

Here is what scripture says in Mark 16:2 and John 20:1:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

So did they arrive at the tomb while it was still dark, or was it after the sun had risen?

Let's get some more information not mentioned in the question. Matthew and Luke report that the women came to the tomb at dawn. Here is what Matthew wrote: (28:1) Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

It looks like the timing was that they arrived as dawn began. Part of the sky was still dark, and the sun was just starting to come up.

It's also interesting that the Greek word used by John, and translated as "dark" (Strong's 4653) is also associated with the idea of unhappiness or ruin (Spiros Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary, page 1297). In his choice of words John was also conveying the feelings the women were experiencing. Feelings of emotional darkness. As a result of Jesus' death the women were in despair and they felt like their lives were a ruin. Their Savior, the Messiah was dead! At this point, when they first arrived at the tomb, they did not know that Jesus had risen.

Luke 24:2 describes the tomb as open when the women arrived, whereas Matthew 28:1-2 indicates it was closed. Here is what scripture says:

Luke 24:1-2 - But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb...

Matthew 28:1-4 - Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

Pay close attention to what Matthew writes. He states that the women arrive at dawn, then he talks about the earthquake in the past tense. Matthew is filling in the details that explain why the women found the grave open. They were surprised that the stone had been rolled away. They had not been expecting this. Matthew is not saying the tomb was closed, he is explaining how the heavy stone was moved (past tense).

Mark 16:5 declares that the women saw a young man at the tomb, Luke 24:4 says they saw two men, Matthew 28:2 reports they saw an angel, and John 20:11-12 claims they saw two angels.

The first question we need to answer is, what do angels look like? The answer is: angels do not have a physical form, but they do have the ability to appear in human form. If you'd like to learn more about the appearance of angels go to:

Next question, if I said, "I saw a man wearing a white suit sitting on the park bench" does that mean he was the only man sitting on the park bench? No. Does that mean there were no men standing next to the park bench? No. All you know is that there was a man in a white suit on the bench, but there could have been other people sitting on the bench, and many other people standing all around the bench.

Finally we need to be aware that each gospel writer addresses a different audience, and each may be answering different questions. In this case Matthew and Mark are addressing how the stone was rolled away, and Luke and John addressing the question of what happened to the body. As a result, the information they report has a different focus.

There is no problem here. There were two angels. That Mark and Luke refer to the angels as men, based on the form they appeared in, is not a problem. That's what they looked like and scripture often identified angels as men (based on their appearance), such as in Genesis 18:1–2 and Daniel 9:21. In this case, Mark and Luke are reporting that the woman at first thought they were looking at men. My guess is that if an angel appeared to you right now, in the form of a man, your first thought would be that you were looking at a man. And your reaction would be, "Where did he come from?"

What did we find out here? There is no contradiction.

Next question...

Also in the resurrection stories, there are contradictions as to the identity of the women who came to the tomb, whether the men or angels the women saw were inside or outside the tomb, whether the men or angels were standing or sitting, and whether Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus when he first appeared to her.

The answers to these are going to be very similar to what you just read, but click here and you can read the details.