Did the Resurrection Really Happen? – Program 2

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, John K. Naland; ©1989
Are there certain details of the resurrection accounts that simply cannot be reconciled between the different Gospels? Do differences indicate deception?

Do the New Testament Documents Give Conflicting Accounts of the Resurrection?


What proof is there that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead? John’s guests for this debate are U.S. Diplomat Mr. John K. Naland, who is a foreign service officer currently assigned to the United States Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. Mr. Naland is skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection and has argued against the historical accounts in his article in The Free Inquiry, America’s primary secular humanist magazine.

Presenting the evidence for the resurrection will be Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a practicing trial lawyer both in Great Britain and in America. He holds two Ph.D.s, first from the University of Chicago, and a second doctorate from the University of Strasbourg, France, plus seven additional graduate degrees in law, theology, library sciences and other fields. He has written over 125 scholarly journal articles and authored 40 different books.

We invite you to stay tuned to find out for yourself if there is solid historical evidence that will convince a skeptic that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Tonight we’re going to be examining the questions: Are the New Testament documents reliable? Who wrote them and when? Do the gospel writers contradict each other in describing the different places that Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection? Let’s get to our debate and here’s the very first question that I asked.

Ankerberg: One thing that you wrote in your article is that besides saying “we are dealing with accounts written not by eyewitnesses but by second generation Christians,” when we got to Matthew you say, “We find the almost certainly false story of the tomb guards who became like dead men.” And you go on to say, “If we dismiss this guard force from the historical record, we are left with the simple fact that Jesus’ corpse was put to rest in a tomb that sat unguarded for approximately 36 hours.” Which is part of the basis that you go on to say that yes, Joseph of Arimathea, he actually came and stole the body or took the body, put it someplace else. That’s why the tomb was empty. But the only way you got to that conclusion was you dismissed the record in Matthew. And the fact is, as we were talking about the fact last week, if you find certain things that are copied over, you didn’t like that. Now, here we’ve got Matthew who gives us information that you don’t find in Mark, and you don’t like that. Help me out here. Why is it…
Naland: Okay…
Montgomery: Yes. I was interested in this. You had mentioned to me that you were in the military. What do you have against Roman guards? I mean, why are you eliminating these boys?
Naland: Okay, let me give you an example.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Naland: Suppose that instead of sitting in Chattanooga here tonight you are in Africa, you’re a Christian missionary in Africa. You don’t have the morning New York Times; you don’t have “CBS Evening News,” you don’t have the radio. The only way you hear about outside events are through magazines. Okay? Here it is, a couple of months after the Inauguration of President Bush and you want to find out what the Inaugural was like. So here comes one morning: Bang! You get Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and National Review. You read Newsweek, U.S. News and National Review and they talk about the Inauguration. They say how President Elect Bush got up, he got dressed, he had breakfast, he went up Pennsylvania Avenue, went down Pennsylvania Avenue and they give the whole story and it makes sense. Then you read Time magazine and Time magazine says that as President Elect Bush was driving up Pennsylvania Avenue there was an earthquake and the earth opened up and fire came out and… Now, what would you think?
If Time magazine said something absolutely extraordinary that the other three didn’t, would you say that, “Well, it probably happened but the other three just didn’t mention it.” Or would you say, “It probably didn’t happen because these other three sources don’t mention it”? And, of course, what I’m saying is that of the 26 books of the New Testament, specifically, Mark, Luke and John, they do not mention these guards. And not only do they not mention them, they present the events in such a way as the guards are precluded.
Montgomery: Oh, not in the slightest. You suggest in your article that had the guards been there, the women could not have arrived at the tomb in the manner in which the accounts say they did. But my gracious, this is a three-day period. If the guards had been frightened out of their wits by the resurrection, they would have taken off, and by Sunday morning the women are there and there aren’t any guards. It’s perfectly compatible. And since there isn’t anything that goes against the cosmic order in having Roman guards around in a Roman province, we don’t have any possible metaphysical ground for excluding them from the accounts.
Naland: Matthew, correct me if I’m wrong, says that the guards were there when the women arrived. Am I incorrect or… okay, so Matthew says the guards were there, frozen as dead men, when the women arrived. Now, John has Magdalene go to the tomb, leave; Peter go to the tomb, leave; Magdalene come back, leave. Mark and Luke have the women, various numbers of women, come and go.
Montgomery: But the women came at different times. They didn’t all come as a kind of committee on one single occasion in the course of the events of Easter morning.
Naland: So you’re saying the guards were gone by that time.
Montgomery: Sure.
Naland: Well, that’s not my understanding of Matthew.

Ankerberg: I’d like you to consider this reconstruction, a harmonization of the four gospel accounts. This will show you how the four reports of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection blend together perfectly. It starts this way.
Very early on the Sunday morning of the resurrection an earthquake took place. The angel descended and rolled away the stone according to Matthew 28:2-4. The guards at the tomb fled, Matthew 28:11. A little later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome hastened to the sepulcher while another group of women followed with the spices. Mary Magdalene reaches the sepulcher first, sees that it’s empty, and immediately goes to inform Peter and John. You can find this in John 20:1. The other Mary and Salome approach and see the angel, Matthew 28:5. Right after that, the other women, with Joanna among them, come along and they see the two angels and receive the message that Jesus has risen, Luke 24:1.
In the meantime, Mary Magdalene reaches Peter and John and they hurry to the sepulcher, John 20:2-3. Mary also follows them again and arrives at the tomb after the others have already departed. She stops, begins to weep at the tomb, John 20:2. She sees the two angels who ask her why she is weeping. After this, she sees Jesus Himself, John 20:14.
In the meantime, the other women had gone to the other disciples and told them their experiences, but their words were regarded as idle tales according to Luke 24:11 until Peter and John confirm them. When the other women were afterwards again on their way to the tomb, Jesus meets them according to the true text of Matthew 28:9 which simply reads: “And behold, Jesus met them and said….”
Later in the day the Savior appeared to Peter alone according to Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5. And toward evening, Jesus appeared to the men of Emmaus and a little later to the whole group of disciples with the exception of Thomas, according to Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19-24. A week later Jesus again appeared to the disciples, but this time Thomas was present and he was convinced of the certainty of the resurrection according to John 20:26-31.
Then, during the 40 days before His Ascension, the Lord also appeared in Galilee to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, according to John 21:1-23, and later, to the disciples in Galilee. Jesus also appeared to the 500 of His follower in Galilee as a result of the command of Mark 16:7 as well as the reports that were coming out concerning Jesus’ resurrection and they assembled spontaneously in expectation of His appearance. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15:6, most of the 500 were still alive as living witnesses of the fact of the resurrection.
From Acts 1:3-4 we learn that during the 40 days before His Ascension, Jesus often appeared to His followers and spoke to them about many things in order to prepare them as builders of His Church. Toward the end of the 40 days, He no doubt commanded His followers to go to Jerusalem and remain there until His promise of the Holy Spirit falling upon them should be fulfilled. After their return to Judea, the Lord also appeared to James according to 1 Corinthians 15:7 and then to the apostles, Luke 24:33-53 and Acts 1:3-12. And then after His Ascension, He appeared to Paul near Damascus, Acts 9:3-6 and 1 Corinthians 15:8.
Also, Stephen, the first martyr, saw Jesus after His resurrection according to Acts 7:55. And last of all, the Lord also appeared to John, the gray-haired exile on the isle of Patmos according to Revelation 1:10-19.
I think that it can be shown that each of these accounts blends perfectly together.

Naland: Why doesn’t Mark, Luke and John mention these guards if they were there?
Montgomery: Heavens. Who knows? I mean, anybody recounting an event can put down the aspects of it that impress them and not put down others.
Naland: But this is the crucial question. The question that in antiquity the Jews were saying, “Oh, the disciples came and stole his body.” So this is the crucial question. Was the tomb unguarded? Or was it guarded? And only one person, the author of Matthew whoever he was, says it was guarded. And that was the latest account.
Montgomery: Papias thought it was the apostle.
Ankerberg: I think what you’re saying is, that if you had been Matthew you would have added a few more things. Okay? It’s like me, when I’m reading…
Naland: What does “gospel” mean? Gospel means “good news.”
Montgomery: It means “good news.”
Naland: It doesn’t mean “the good news and the bad news,” it means “the good news.” So it…
Montgomery: Good news is not the equivalent to the encyclopedia that gives all data possible on any given subject.
Naland: No, “good news” means “here’s the good news. We’re not going to talk about the bad news.”
Montgomery: Well no, wait a minute. No, no. What it means is: The Good News that God came to earth in Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again. It doesn’t mean that each gospel writer has the obligation to include every piece of information every other gospel writer includes.
Naland: But you would include the crucial events.
Montgomery: Yes, but it’s only you who thinks that it’s crucial that every gospel writer include the same amount of information concerning the Roman guards.
Naland: You don’t think it’s crucial that the guards were guarding the tomb?
Montgomery: Very crucial, but all you need is one eyewitness to tell you that they were there. You…
Naland: And we have four, and three don’t mention it.
Montgomery: Well, for heaven’s sake, you’ve got only two gospels that even mention the Sermon on the Mount. Now, I don’t know anyone who doubts that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Why is it that Mark and John don’t mention those particular items of preaching? Answer: because they were interested in other things. And each writer has the perfect right to be interested in what he wants to write about as long as he’s accurate in what he says. You’ve got to take these writings as complementary. You can’t set up a statistical system whereby you’ve got to have, you know, eight of the “X” number of New Testament writers saying the same thing on any given subject or you can throw it out. That kind of criterion we’d never apply in any other area of life.
Naland: But if one out of 26 says it, and the others….
Montgomery: But hang on, that’s a poor statistic anyway because you’ve only got four of these writers who are giving a biographical account of these events…
Naland: Okay, so you have 25%.
Montgomery: Sure, which is just fine. You go into any court of law, you’ll find that when four witnesses describe a traffic accident you will get information from “A” that you will not get from “B,” “C,” and “D.” You’ll you get information from “C” you won’t get from “A,” “B,” and “D.” And no judge would ever instruct a jury to ignore what one of them says simply because the others haven’t said the same thing.
Ankerberg: And, Mr. Naland, in your article you have said that there is contradictory conclusions that discounts the evidence that is given. And I’d like to take one that is the basic premise of this article, namely, what happened to the body. Obviously, everybody agrees that the tomb was empty. Now, what happened to the body? The disciples said Jesus arose. They saw Him. That’s why it’s empty. Others down through history have come up with other conclusions that some have said it will take more faith to believe that than what the disciples actually testify to.
Your conclusion that you have come to is found in your article, and you say this: “If it is true that Joseph of Arimathea was a pious Jew who out of human kindness and not Christian loyalty hurriedly interred the lifeless body of Jesus in his own tomb, it is also possible that when the Sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday, Joseph’s servants removed Jesus’ body and deposited it in a less imposing final resting place.”
Now, that’s your conclusion, but you have to wrestle with the actual eyewitness accounts themselves, and this is one of them. It says in John 19, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who had earlier visited Jesus at night. [That’s in John 3.] Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it with the spices in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” [John 19:38-42]
Now, you go against that statement that John wrote. Please tell us why you came to your conclusion.
Naland: Okay, well, we have to start with the question, “Was Joseph of Arimathea a disciple or follower of Jesus or not?” And you quoted John, a late source…
Montgomery: But he’s a good deal earlier than you are.
Naland: That’s correct. But Luke and Mark are earlier than he is, and Luke and Mark do not present Joseph as a follower of Jesus.
Montgomery: Do they state that Joseph of Arimathea was not a disciple? If they did, then you would have a contradiction between their accounts and the account just read by Mr. Ankerberg.
Naland: Let me quote Luke for you…
Ankerberg: Alright.
Naland: That should suffice. That “Joseph was a good and righteous man who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 23:50] And Mark… actually it’s reversed. Mark says it and Luke copies it: “…looking for the kingdom of God.” [Mark 15:43] Now, that does not say that he was a disciple of Jesus. And my question is…
Ankerberg: Let me challenge you…
Naland: One more question.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Naland: Joseph of Arimathea, member of the Supreme Council of the Jews, if he was a follower of Jesus, what happened to him?
Ankerberg: Let me answer both of those for you…
Naland: Why isn’t he later on in Acts, as the…
Ankerberg: Well, let me see if we can discuss them…
Montgomery: What happened to Pontius Pilate?
Naland: What happened to Joseph and Mary? There are a lot of…
Montgomery: Well, exactly. And you can’t judge history by whether or not the accounts give you a complete biographical description of the career of every person mentioned.
Naland: But it would seem to me, and I could be incorrect, that if Joseph was a follower of Jesus, he would have been the most influential early follower of Jesus.
Montgomery: For heaven’s sake, maybe he had a heart attack two weeks after the resurrection! There are a thousand explanations that are possible for this. The point is that none of the accounts would deny what John said, that he was a “secret follower of Jesus.”
Naland: But why don’t they state it then?
Montgomery: I don’t know. I didn’t write it.
Naland: Well, I think I know.
Montgomery: Oh, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Now, here we’ve got to be very careful, because there is a certain element of presumptuousness, in my opinion, in your article. You seem to be sure as to how these accounts ought to have been written. Now, of course, had you written them, you would have included material or excluded material that the writers didn’t. But that may be the reason why God didn’t choose you to write the article.
Naland: I wasn’t around then, so…
Montgomery: Exactly. Exactly. So as a historian what we need to do is to go with what the stuff says unless we have solid and indeed better reason contemporaneously for not going along with it. And here we have John, who, according to his own students, was an eyewitness to these events stating that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple.
Ankerberg: Also, Mr. Naland, you also have then the fact you have two witnesses here, because in Matthew he says, “As evening approached there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” Now, the fact is here you’ve got two witnesses that say the same thing, and a man that’s on the Council. We can all understand the fact that on the Council he had a lot to lose when they’d just killed off the person that he is secretly following. At the same time, the evidence that you read in Luke where it says, “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action.” [Luke 23:50-51] And the fact that he did not consent to the whole Council’s action, there’s got to be a pretty good reason why. And that flows with John’s account and Matthew’s account, the reason why. He was a disciple.
Naland: The reason why was that he was a pious Jew and the Roman Empire was not a pretty thing. The Romans were vicious, barbarian pagans. And here you have this Jew, Jesus, who is being crucified by the Romans, put up over the Sabbath is what they wanted. And Joseph, in my understanding, as a pious Jew, just could not stand for that, and he…
Montgomery: That may well be right. That may very well be right. But the point is that the primary accounts, the firsthand testimony goes beyond that and says, also he was a “secret disciple and he took down the body” and did those various things with it. But let’s take the worst possible scenario. Let’s say that his servants by his command took the body off someplace. The problem that you’ve got there is that as the account also says, Nicodemus was privy to this, and obviously other people in those circles would be privy to it, and these events occurred as public events of that time. Everybody was interested in them. To think that he could have somehow, or his servants could somehow have gotten away with stashing that body with all of the interest groups involved in the situation really requires more faith than the resurrection does. You just can’t explain it away that way. It was Morison in his book Who Moved the Stone? that pointed out that if you’re going to doubt the resurrection of Christ, you’ve really got to provide a clean satisfactory explanation of what happened to this body. And the “Joseph of Arimathea” explanation is getting you into more hot water than I think you want to get into.
Naland: I’m ready. Just give me a second.
Ankerberg: Okay, what we have said is that you have two witnesses that make a blanket statement and you have another that really does not contradict it, and yet you want to go a different direction than the material. A concluding statement.
Naland: Okay, if you agree with the main scholars who say that Mark is the oldest, and you see that Luke and Matthew are later and John is even later, Mark does not say anything about the guards, he doesn’t say anything about Joseph being a disciple of Jesus, and later on, as the young Christian religion is growing and people are fighting it and they’re saying it was just a “ghost story” and all these things, then you get the later accounts written by people trying to convince others of the reality of the risen Jesus. And human nature is that you put the best foot forward, and maybe you add a little more than you’ve received.
Montgomery: Yeah, but you don’t put your best foot forward when someone is going to chop it off. And the fact of the matter is, that all of this stuff – Mark, Matthew, Luke – all of this stuff was circulating among hostile witnesses, among people who had the means, the motive and the opportunity to blast it if the stuff was not set forth satisfactorily. F. F. Bruce at the University of Manchester has made the very strong point that really the presence of the hostile witnesses turns out to be the legal equivalent of cross examination. There’s no way in the world that they could have gotten away with this, even if you’re right, that they introduced it as a kind of subsequent explanation so as to put their best foot forward.
Naland: Well, how could we help you now?
Ankerberg: We’re out of time this week, guys. Just finish that up and we’ll pick it up again next week.
Montgomery: Well, I was simply going to make the point that the disciples, the very people who wrote this stuff, had the temerity, the stupidity, to go to the Jewish synagogues to present this. That would have been the worst thing to do if Mr. Naland was right and that the stuff had been added later in order to make the story look better, because in the Jewish synagogues were the rabbis, the Jewish religious leaders that had come in from the Diaspora and had been present, many of them, at the time these very events had transpired.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s take an example, say Mark 2. I think most people know that, and let’s take that as we come back next week and we’ll talk about fantastic statements that Jesus made in the presence of hostile witnesses and the effect of whether or not we can tell we have accurate information by just putting those together. Please join me next week. I think you’ll find it interesting.

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