An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives-Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
Alleged contradiction #3: Do the message of the angels to the women at the tomb and the women’s response conflict in the Gospel accounts? To resolve this problem, first, we will cite Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts, noting the critics’ charges for each. After this, we will show why Matthew, Mark and Luke do not contradict one another.


Do the message of the angels to the women at the tomb and the women’s response conflict in the Gospel accounts?

To resolve this problem, first, we will cite Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts, noting the critics’ charges for each. After this, we will show why Matthew, Mark and Luke do not contradict one another. The Apostle John does not record this event.

Matthew 28:5-8—

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 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.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

25. Do Matthew, Mark and Luke CONTRADICT each other in reporting the angelic message?

The critics claim this account conflicts with the accounts given by the other two Gospel writers who mention this event. Matthew has one angel delivering a message to the women, who are then supposed to give that message to the disciples only. The critics claim this is different from the account in Mark where “Peter” is also mentioned and in Luke where two angels deliver a message without any mention that it is to be delivered to the disciples. Further, the re­sponse of the women in Matthew differs from that in Mark and Luke.

Mark 16:5-8—

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “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. 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.” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

26. Does Mark CONFLICT with Matthew concerning the message of the angels?

The critics claim that Mark’s description of one angel instructing the women to inform the disciples and Peter conflicts with Matthew who does not mention Peter. Further, in Mark’s account the angel says, “There you will see him, just as he told you,” which is different from what the angel says in Matthew. What then was the exact message given by the angel? Finally, Luke proceeds to contradict both Matthew and Mark by stating that not one angel but two angels delivered the message:

Luke 24:3-9—

…but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 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? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

27. Does Luke ADD words to the original message given by the angels?

The critics claim that Luke’s message is altogether different from that supplied by Matthew and Mark. For example, in Luke the angels say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” But Matthew and Mark do not even record this. Further, the angels in Luke also quote a statement by Jesus concerning His Resurrection: “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:6b-7). This too was never mentioned by Matthew or Mark.

Answering the Objections of the Critics Concerning the Message of the Angels and the Women’s Response

We must keep in mind that the angels did give one complete message. We shall give the angels’ message in its entirety at the end of this section. Thus, the full speech and all the details which were given by the angels for the disciples should first be pictured as a whole. The authors chose to record parts of that message which they thought important. In other words, the three writers are giving bits and pieces of that speech as they heard it from the eyewitnesses or people who knew the eyewitnesses.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that their accounts will differ slightly in length of material and emphasis, but in writing their accounts the way they do, they are not in conflict with each other in what they report. No one can demand that Luke must give a word-for-word report of the angels’ message any more than the Vice President must give a literal word-for-word report from a Cabinet member to the President. There are enough of the exact words given that agree with Matthew and Mark’s account for us to know it is the same message. Luke’s emphasis differs from the other two writers on Galilee but the thrust is the same. Jesus will go before the disciples into Galilee since He has risen.

Even so, the message of the angels as recorded both by Matthew and Mark is strikingly similar. The only difference between them is that Mark includes a spe­cific reference to the Apostle Peter. Why is Mark the only author who records the message of the angels was to be told specifically to Peter? Because Mark was Peter’s friend and traveling companion, most of his Gospel was derived from Peter’s eyewitness testimony of the events. Therefore, it is natural to find this additional information concerning Peter in his friend Mark’s record. Peter appar­ently conveyed to Mark how wonderful it was that Jesus would have the angel specifically mention that he, Peter, should be told that Christ was risen and wanted to see him.

This mention of Peter in Mark’s account and a slight variation in wording are the only differences between Matthew and Mark. In both accounts the angels mention that Jesus was crucified, that He is not in the tomb, that He has risen; both point out the place where He was laid and is now absent; both urge the women to go tell His disciples; both mention that the risen Jesus is going ahead of them into Galilee; and both mention that Jesus had predicted His own Resur­rection in advance.

But the critics proceed to charge that Luke has an entirely different message altogether. Some have claimed that Luke actually added words to the angels’ message that they never said. Luke records the words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5), something not mentioned by Matthew and Mark (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7). Luke also states, “He is not here, but he has risen” (Luke 24:6). Both Matthew and Mark agree with Luke and include this statement.

Luke continues, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:6b, 7).

Matthew and Mark do not record these words. However, this does not mean the angel did not say this. Even though Matthew and Mark do not record the angel saying these words, they agree with Luke that Jesus said them. These same words are found to be stated by Jesus in the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and on the third day He will be raised to life” (Matthew 17:22-23, cf. Luke 9:22; Mark 8:31).

In another prediction of Jesus he records, “From that time Jesus Christ began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

Mark also agrees with Matthew that Jesus said the words quoted by the an­gels. In Mark 8:31 we read, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Luke says the same (Luke 9:22).

In conclusion the additional information given by the angels in Luke is based on a real saying of Jesus that all three writers recorded. Since this part of the angels’ message is based on a real statement Jesus made, why should we doubt Luke even though Matthew and Mark chose not to include it in their accounts?

28. Does Luke’s mention of Galilee contradict the mention of Galilee in Matthew and Mark?

The critics claim that Matthew and Mark contradict Luke’s message concern­ing Galilee. In the first two Gospels the disciples are told to go to Galilee in order to see Jesus there. But in Luke the angels do not mention that Jesus will appear to the disciples in Galilee, but only that it was in Galilee that He predicted His Resurrection.

Did the angels say that Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee—or that He just wanted them to remember that was where He predicted He would resurrect from the dead?

Matthew and Mark both record the angels quoting Jesus’ exact words He gave to His disciples in Galilee before His trial, crucifixion and death. Both Matthew and Mark state that when He was in Galilee, Jesus said to His disciples, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (Matthew 26:32; Mark 14:28).

Now, after the crucifixion Matthew records the angels’ message of instruction to the disciples this way, “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’” (Matthew 28:7).

Mark records the angels’ message as, “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” (Mark 16:7).

Luke apparently knows the angels are quoting Jesus’ exact words He gave His disciples in Galilee. Instead of quoting those words, Luke simply refers to them and their meaning by reporting the angels saying, “Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee.” If they did remember, they would have known exactly what Matthew and Mark said, namely, “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Mark probably heard the reference to Galilee straight from Peter’s preaching of what the angels had said. Because their words are almost the same, Matthew might have (1) also heard the message from Peter and (2) as an apostle, he might have heard the message himself. In other words, the different rendition concerning Galilee found in Luke’s account is due merely to Luke’s own emphasis.

Remember, there is no necessity for Luke giving a word-for-word rendition of what the angel said. He might have heard the exact words and realized their importance and signified it by referring his readers back to what Jesus said in Galilee. When one looks at what Jesus said in Galilee, it was exactly the message that Matthew and Mark record concerning what the angel declared, “He is going before you into Galilee.”

Did Luke give enough correct information so his readers would understand what was meant? Yes. Luke records the angels’ message in such a way that his readers would remember back to Jesus’ prediction of His death and Resurrection and His promise to meet His disciples in Galilee.

Is Luke wrong in taking such liberty with the angels’ words? Does anyone else ever report an event and place their own emphasis upon that event? All of us do this every day.

Most of us watch the evening news at night. When the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated and the seven astronauts died, we flipped from channel to channel and caught a different account of the same terrible event. Different words were used and even different facts were added or omitted. But did such differences cause us to conclude the disaster never happened, and the astronauts didn’t die?

If one network news team added new information, or gave a slightly different emphasis to their report, did we assume that the different accounts given by the different network teams couldn’t be harmonized? No! And the same is true for these Gospel accounts. When one writer gives additional information or places his own emphasis on one part of the story and reasonable attempts at harmoni­zation successfully blend together, no contradiction can be assumed.

Selective reporting is just that; it is selective according to the author’s purpose. John doesn’t even mention these words of the angels’ message. Are we then to assume the event never happened? Certainly we must grant the same courtesy to the biblical authors that we do to modern secular writers who select appropri­ate material and edit it as they see fit. The key issue is not what was omitted but rather, is what was said truthful?

In conclusion, it is clear that the Gospel writers do not contradict one another in their recording of the angels’ message. If we combine the messages given in the different Gospel accounts, it is easy to reconstruct the original message given by the lead angel:

Don’t you be afraid. I know whom you are seeking—Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified one. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here—for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Remember how he talked to you when he was in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. Go quickly, tell his disciples (and Peter) that he is raised from the dead and is going before you into Galilee. You will see him there, as he said.[1]

Again, each writer has merely selected the part of the angels’ message which best suited his purpose.

29. Do Matthew, Mark and Luke contradict one another in describing the women’s reaction to the angels’ message?

The critics also claim that the responses of the women in these accounts are contradictory. Matthew says the women “ran to tell his disciples” about the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8); but Mark records, “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Critics claim that Luke contradicts Matthew and Mark when he says, “…they told all this to the Eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9).

Mark records that after hearing the angels’ message the women “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Does Luke contradict Mark by recording that, “returning from the tomb they [the women] told all this to the Eleven and to all the rest” (Mark 16:8; Luke 24:9)? Did the women tell or not tell?

Once again, when the accounts are combined and time is factored in, the “problem” disappears. It is true that at first, before they reached the apostles, the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Each of us would have been as well.

Since we are dealing with a specific period of time (the time it took the women to go from the tomb to find the apostles) there is no reason why the women could not have first responded with fear, and then after their fear “subsided,” told the disciples what had happened. This is why they were silent and told no one until they reached the safety and security of the apostles. Then they delivered their message.

By implication, this was also the instruction of the angels’ message. “Go tell the apostles” implies that the apostles should be the first to hear the message. If an angel gives one party specific instruction to give a vital message to another party, the first party does not stop and gossip along the way.

But it would be incredible to think that, having received the instruction of the angels specifically to go tell the disciples about the Resurrection, the women would never tell anyone throughout the rest of their entire lives. Mark is simply emphasizing that they were scared, and it took them a while to “collect them­selves” before they would obey the specific instruction of the angels to tell the apostles. That they did tell the apostles is obvious, for the Gospels record the apostles’ reaction to the women’s message. Mark is simply emphasizing the women were scared and they said nothing until they reached the disciples.

In conclusion, there is no contradiction in the basic content as given by all the Gospel writers. Each writer has recorded the “basics” of the angels’ message. Neither is there a contradiction in the women’s response to the message.

Now we will consider the claims made by a contemporary critic concerning the angels’ message.

30. In what way do critics imply collusion on the part of the apostles?

John K. Naland criticizes the accounts and supplies us his own interpretation of the events:

We must now turn to the conflicting reports of what happened next. All four sources claim that an amazing message was given to the women when they arrived…. The agreement however, stops there [i.e., the message itself conflicts]…. Scholars conclude that we are dealing here with a literary device, not remembered history.
Since the simple fact that the tomb was empty could be interpreted in many ways (such as Magdalene’s “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him”), the ancient authors apparently move to dispel confusion and doubt by using the traditional literary device of introducing divine beings to authoritatively proclaim this otherwise confusing event’s “true” meaning: Jesus’ body had not been stolen but had in fact risen from the dead.[2]

Naland concludes,

The fact that, despite their other disagreements, three of the authors closely agree on the man/men/angels message in no way supports its historicity; most scholars agree that the authors of Matthew and Luke wrote their books with a copy of Mark in front of them.[3]

The idea that Matthew and Luke wrote the Gospels with a copy of Mark in front of them, implying collusion, is the bankrupt assumption made by liberal critics today. What evidence exists to substantiate their assumption?

Notice, the critics claim the accounts are so different that contradictions can clearly be seen. But then all of a sudden they tell us the accounts are so similar that collusion can be seen. The critics can’t have it both ways. If the accounts are too similar, the critics cry “collusion!” If the accounts are too divergent, they cry “contradiction!”

If the writers copied from one source, then we must give them credit for not being so foolish as to deliberately contradict each other. The critics who say they all copied from one source, Mark, must explain why differences exist.

Anyone who reads the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke finds that they are sufficiently divergent to indicate independent research, reporting and writing. There is no evidence of either collusion or contradiction.

Further, Naland and other critics claim the account of the angels is merely a“literary device,” an attempt to “dispel confusion” concerning conflicting accounts by having the angels introduce an authoritative message. But this is pure conjec­ture on the critic’s part.

There is absolutely no difference between Naland’s suggested “literary device” and blatant deception. If Jesus really didn’t rise physically from the dead, why would the disciples have invented a story about angels proclaiming an event (the Resurrection) no one believed had happened in the first place? Were the writers so deluded that in their weakened state they pathetically made up stories of nonexistent events to “confirm” their own pathological hallucinations of a non-risen Jesus? Such assumptions are absurd, especially when what the Gospel writers wrote harmonizes beautifully.


  1. John Wenham, Easter Enigma (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books/Zondervan, 1984), p. 88.
  2. John K. Naland, “The First Easter: The Evidence for the Resurrection Evaluated,” Free Inquiry, Spring 1988, pp. 12-13.
  3. Ibid., p. 13.

Read Part 4

Leave a Comment