An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives-Part 5
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|In this final part of our series on alleged contradictions in the resurrection accounts, we will examine three points: 1. Are the details surrounding the crucifixion contradictory?; 2. Are the details concerning the events that occurred around the time of Jesus’ death contradictory?; and 3. Are the events surrounding Jesus’ burial contradictory?|
ALLEGED CONTRADICTION NUMBER FIVE:
Are the details surrounding the crucifixion contradictory?
43. Who carried Jesus’ cross: Simon the Cyrene (Matthew, Mark and Luke) or Jesus Himself (John)?
Because of what Jesus had already experienced, He was undoubtedly extremely weak. The solution to this apparent contradiction is that Jesus carried the cross part of the way (John 19:17) and Simon the Cyrene the remainder (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). It is also possible that Jesus carried part of the cross (the “I” beam or the “T” beam) all the way while Simon carried the remainder.
44. Did Jesus drink from the wine mixture given to Him while on the cross (John) or refuse it (Matthew and Mark)?
Another alleged contradiction is whether or not Jesus actually drank from the wine mixture given to Him. Matthew says He tasted the mixture but “refused to drink” (Matthew 27:34); Mark says He was offered the wine but did not take it (Mark 15:23); Luke mentions only that He was offered wine vinegar (Luke 23:36); John says that Jesus “received the drink” and by implication drank (John 19:29,30).
Further, Matthew says the wine was mixed with gall; Mark says it was mixed with myrrh; Luke and John both say it was mixed with vinegar.
What resolves this alleged contradiction is a careful reading of the text, remembering Jesus was on the cross for some six hours. There were three known offerings of a wine mixture; the first offer was made by the soldiers, before Jesus was crucified and is recorded by Matthew and Mark. This mixture was the wine and “gall” or “myrrh” that was usually offered to condemned prisoners as a mild analgesic. But when this drink was offered to Jesus before He was crucified, He refused it. Luke records a second offer by the soldiers (Luke 23:36), this time of wine vinegar or sour wine, a common drink.
The third offer was made during the time Jesus was crucified and occurred after He had uttered the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This third offer of wine vinegar was made to Jesus by a particular individual in the crowd and is recorded by Matthew, Mark and John. All three writers agree that Jesus did taste this offer. There is no contradiction in the accounts.
45. What did the inscription placed above Jesus read?
The third alleged contradiction concerns the inscription on the sign placed above Jesus. What did it say? The sign itself read: “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” All four writers mention that the sign stated that this was “THE KING OF THE JEWS,” but Matthew adds “THIS IS JESUS” while John adds, “JESUS OF NAZARETH.” There is no contradiction; each author uses that information which suits his purpose.
In 1964, a large banner was placed across the stage where the Beatles were performing. It read, “THE BEATLES, THE FABULOUS FOUR FROM LONDON. JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE, RINGO.” Later, writing about the concert, four different reporters could easily refer to this sign and correctly give four different accounts of what the sign said without being contradictory.
46. Did both thieves insult Jesus on the cross (Matthew, Mark) or did only one insult Him (Luke)?
The fourth alleged contradiction in the Crucifixion accounts is whether or not both thieves insulted Jesus on the cross. Matthew and Mark say that both thieves insulted Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32); Luke says only one insulted Him (Luke 23:39-40), and John does not mention the incident.
The solution is to remember we are dealing with a period of six hours. It is perfectly logical to think that both criminals initially insulted Jesus, but that one of them, as he observed Him on the cross and heard His comments, changed his mind, and later even rebuked the other criminal. (Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:39-40)
ALLEGED CONTRADICTION NUMBER SIX:
Are the details concerning the events that occurred around the time of Jesus’ death contradictory?
47. What were Jesus’ last words on the cross?
The critics ask, “What were Jesus’ last words?” If one does not read carefully, it would appear that Matthew and Mark assert that Jesus’ last cry was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). But shortly after recording this statement, both authors also agree that Jesus “cried out again in a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37) and breathed His last (“gave up His spirit”) (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37).
In other words, both Matthew and Mark refer to another statement of Jesus, a loud cry, although they do not identify the words spoken. Luke identifies this loud cry as, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Immediately prior to that statement, John informs us that Jesus uttered, “It is finished” (John 19:30). John does not say Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished” in a loud voice.
What this means is that after Jesus had cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” a brief period of time elapsed. Then, during the last minutes of His life, He uttered, “It is finished” and immediately after that, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” At that point, He died. Again, we see that all four Gospel accounts harmonize perfectly and do not contradict. One author adds a thing another leaves out, but this is only to be expected from independent reporters.
48. What did the centurion say when he saw Jesus die?
Another alleged contradiction surrounding Jesus’ death concerns what the Centurion said when he saw Jesus die. Matthew says that the Centurion and those with him guarding Jesus stated after seeing the earthquake and all that happened, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). Mark says that when the Centurion heard His last cry and “saw how He died,” he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Luke 23:47 records the Centurion said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” John does not mention the event.
We see no contradiction. It is reasonable to assume, given the miraculous events recorded by Matthew (Matthew 27:51-54), that the Centurion and others guarding Jesus, as well as the many observers, would know something unusual was happening. In fact, Matthew records they “were terrified” (Matthew 27:54). It is perfectly reasonable that both the Centurion and those guarding Jesus agreed among themselves that “surely he was the Son of God” while the Centurion also added the comment, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
49. Did “some” women (Mark) or “many” women (Matthew) watch Jesus die?
Another alleged contradiction for this category concerns whether there were “many” women watching Jesus being crucified or only “some” women. Matthew mentions “many” (Matthew 27:55); Mark mentions “some” (Mark 15:40); Luke mentions “the women” (Luke 23:27) and John does not record the incident.
A careful reading of the accounts dispels any contradiction. Each of the Synoptic writers records two facts: a) many people were there, including many women and b) some women in this crowd were important to single out because “these women had followed him [Jesus] and cared for his needs” (Mark 15:41). But besides mentioning these special “some women,” Mark also later mentions that “many other women… were also there” (Mark 15:41).
ALLEGED CONTRADICTION NUMBER SEVEN:
Are the events surrounding Jesus’ burial contradictory?
50. Who took Jesus’ body from the cross and buried it—Joseph (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or Joseph and Nicodemus (John)?
In the accounts of Jesus’ burial another contradiction asserted by the critics concerns who buried Jesus’ body. The Synoptics mention that Joseph took and wrapped the body and placed it in the tomb (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). John, however, says that it was both Joseph and Nicodemus (John 19:39).
But this is no contradiction. John simply mentions an additional fact the Synoptic writers leave out. The truth is that Joseph could not have taken the body off the cross and placed it in his tomb all by himself; he would have required the assistance of another individual whom John identifies as Nicodemus (John 19:39-40).
51. The guard at the tomb: Why did only Matthew mention it?
Many critics have a problem with the guards placed at the tomb, probably because their existence is such a powerful testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though there is absolutely no reason to do so, the critics summarily dismiss the account as false.
In The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield claims, “We may dismiss the story in Matthew alone that the chief priests requested Pilate that a guard be set over the tomb, and that they posted a watch, presumably on Saturday evening at the end of the Sabbath.”
John K. Naland states that, “Of the 26 books of the New Testament,… Mark, Luke, and John… do not mention these guards. And not only do they not mention them, they present the events in such a way [that] the guards are precluded.” Further, Naland asks, “Why doesn’t Mark, Luke, and John mention these guards if they were there?”
In his article on the Resurrection accounts he claims that, “The general scholarly conclusion [is] that the author of Matthew invented the details about the watchful guards, perhaps in hope of influencing contemporaries who would charge, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away’.”
But on what basis can anyone entirely dismiss an entire account of an event merely because there is only one trustworthy person who mentions it? When your pastor recalls a personal incident on Sunday morning, do we immediately think he is lying because he is the only one reporting it? Only two Gospels mention the Sermon on the Mount. Does anyone doubt that Jesus actually preached the Sermon on the Mount because Mark and John do not mention it?
No critic has ever supplied one iota of evidence to throw out Matthew’s testimony concerning the guard. Writing for a Jewish audience, it would be perfectly consistent with Matthew’s purpose to include an account of Jewish actions. Further, Matthew’s account of the guards (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15) involves ten verses, or some fifteen lines of material, almost one half of his account of the Resurrection event. If we throw out the report concerning the guards, why not throw out everything Matthew says? But all that is required is one accurate eyewitness to tell us the guards were there. Matthew was that eyewitness.
There is additional historical evidence concerning the guards at the tomb. Matthew is not their sole reporter. It is reported by Justin and Tertullian in the second century as well as in two Apocryphal Gospels. As Michael Green observes:
- It is fashionable to disregard the story of the guard, because it is only recorded in Saint Matthew’s gospel, and looks like a bit of Christian propaganda.
- However it is attested by two of the apocryphal gospels of the second century, The Gospel of the Hebrews and The Gospel of Peter. The former, probably the oldest of the apocryphal gospels, says of Pilate “he delivered unto them armed men, that they might sit over against the cave and keep it day and night.” The Gospel of Peter… records that Pilate set Petronius, a centurion, with soldiers to watch over the tomb of Jesus…. The account is manifestly legendary [in places]…but the story of the guard has a firm place in the tradition; it is found also in Justin and Tertullian in the second century.
- Furthermore it is just the sort of thing one might expect, given the mixture of law and intrigue which went to make up the administration of Judaea at that time. The body of a condemned criminal remained Roman property. That is why Joseph had to go and ask no less a personage than Pilate himself for it if he wanted to give a burial.
Christians would never have invented the story of the guards at the tomb.
- Doubtless it served apologetic purposes in arguing with Jews, but it could not have arisen in that way. Two words make that certain. No Christian could have made up those two words hemon koimomenon (“while we slept”) and put them in the mouth of the guards (Matt. 28:13). This story could only have been… use[ful] for Christian propaganda if the guards had stayed awake! The only possible reason, therefore, the story of the guard circulated is that it was true. There had been a guard.
In addition, Wenham supplies other reasons why “Pilate would be inclined to listen seriously to suggestions by the chief priests on matters of security.” For example, Pilate didn’t want another uprising inspired by Jesus’ followers that possibly could lead to his losing his position as governor of Judaea.
There can be no doubt that guards were posted to protect the tomb from thieves. Certainly guards would never have been posted to protect an empty tomb. Once they were in position, they would have made certain the object they were to guard would remain there.
In conclusion, consider this: given the many details reported concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and Resurrection by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there are dozens and scores of different opportunities for the writers to have contradicted one another. For every single event, however small, mentioned by one writer, another writer could have clearly contradicted it.
But in all this detailed reporting, we could not find a single genuine contradiction and only a few alleged contradictions—all of which had perfectly reasonable solutions. How then can the fact of the Resurrection be denied on the grounds the accounts conflict?
- Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973), p. 804.
- Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), p. 163.
- The John Ankerberg Show, unpublished transcript of a debate between Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and John K. Naland, televised April 1990,, p. 16.
- Ibid., p. 17.
- John K. Naland, “The First Easter: The Evidence for the Resurrection Evaluated,” Free Inquiry, Spring 1988, p. 12, emphasis added.
- Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), pp. 99- 100.
- Ibid., p. 101.
- John Wenham, Easter Enigma (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books/Zondervan, 1984), p. 74.