Did the Resurrection Really Happen? – Program 5

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, John K. Naland; ©1989
Critics claim the Gospel accounts conflict in their description of the angels who visited the tomb, and the Roman guard. Some gospels don’t mention them at all, others seem to give different numbers. Clear contradictions, right?

Angels and Roman Guards


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. In this part of our debate we’re going to examine the questions, “Can we trust Matthew’s account about the Roman guards? Do the New Testament writers conflict in describing who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning? Did the women see angels or men at the tomb, and how many angels did they see? And were the angels inside or outside the tomb?” These and other questions will be discussed tonight, and I hope that you’ll listen very carefully to this important information.
Naland: And I’d say this to the people here and watching this program, when this program’s over, you know, go home, turn off the TV, and what you do is you take the Bible, whatever version you want, and you put it side by side. And that’s all I ask. You take the last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, put them side by side, compare them, see what they say, and I believe, if you have eyes to see, you will see that there are some incredible contradictions there which lead you to ask, “Did anyone really know what happened?”
Montgomery: Listen, I love it! That exactly what people ought to do, and when they see that these various narrators are not presenting the identical stories, ask one question: “Are they complementary or are they contradictory?” They will turn out to be as complementary as four witnesses on the stand to any traffic accident. And they point to the fact that you don’t have collusion here. If these people all said exactly the same thing, my gosh! When I have somebody on the stand, on the other side, and this guy says exactly the same thing as the previous witness, wonderful! I want to raise the contingency fee. I’m going to win, because this was done by collusion.
Naland: Alright. But there’s a difference between slight disagreement and apples and oranges.
Montgomery: These are not apples and oranges. You yourself have agreed that it’s perfectly possible, for example, to have the Roman guard there at one time and the women there at another…
Naland: No, I don’t agree to that.
Montgomery: Well, is there a metaphysical necessity that Romans be there all the time?
Naland: I don’t accept Matthew’s description, so I see no evidence for the guard.
Montgomery: Well, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Because Matthew according to Papias and Polycarp was there, while you weren’t!
Ankerberg: I’d like to come to this thing that you don’t accept it, and you keep saying it’s contradictory, but I haven’t seen and I haven’t heard one thing that’s been contradictory. I have heard many things where there has been added information that is complementary and it’s not in a neat pile, but I have not seen any one of these things that you have mentioned yet or any other….
Naland: Okay. Who went to the tomb at dawn?
Montgomery: Many people went to the tomb at dawn. The women went…
Naland: Which women?

Ankerberg: Now, Mr. Naland wants to know who went to the tomb at dawn. Matthew says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went. [Matt. 28:1] Mark says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went. [Mark 16:1] Luke simply says the women went to the tomb. [Luke 24:1] The apostle John writes Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. [John 20:1]
Notice, none of the gospel writers say it was only two women or only three women or only one woman. Each writer describes those he wants to recognize. If one of the four writers had said only so and so went to the tomb, and another writer said only somebody else specifically went to the tomb, then we would have a contradiction.
Now, can these accounts be harmonized just the way they stand in reporting who went to the tomb? The answer is, “Yes.” Let me suggest just one option.
Let’s suppose that all the women had planned to meet at the tomb at dawn. On Easter Sunday morning they all left their homes at approximately the same time. However, Mary arrived first, observed the empty tomb, and left before her companions arrived. She goes to tell Peter and John that the tomb is empty. Now, if this happened, then John would be correct in reporting the fact that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and left. Also, Matthew, Mark, and Luke would be correct in including in their reports two or three or more of the individuals in the group of women who also left to meet at the tomb. John didn’t say only Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and no other women. Matthew didn’t say just two women went. And Mark didn’t say only three women went. They write from their own perspective. Luke simply mentions the women in general came to the tomb. And later, he lists a number of women who were telling the apostles what had happened at the tomb area and when he does this, he includes Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother James, and the others who were with them. [Luke 24:10] This would mean that possibly five women had visited the tomb. Now, the other mentioned may have accompanied the group of women or come at a different time by themselves. Regardless, this sequence of events shows that the accounts do not contradict each other, rather, they agree and blend together beautifully.

Naland: On one hand you say what great eyewitnesses these authors are, okay?
Ankerberg: They are.
Naland: And so you get your eyewitness. And one says, “This person and this person went” period. And the other says, “This person, this person and this person went” period. The other one says, “Well, it was just Mary.” It’s like…
Montgomery: No. The one doesn’t say “It’s just…it’s just.” Now, that’s the important thing.
Naland: Okay. Okay.
Montgomery: If one of them said this person and only that person was present at a given time, and the second one said that someone else and only that person was present at that same time, then you’d have a logical contradiction. But you see, you don’t have that.
Naland: But they don’t say that. Okay, it’s like asking me to prove that a brontosaurus did not go with the women.
Montgomery: No, no, no, it’s not like that at all.
Naland: Yes it is! Because the authors do not say that a brontosaurus was not there, so therefore, maybe there was a brontosaurus…
Montgomery: We’re not talking about beasts or people who are not mentioned by any of the writers. We’re talking about the ones that were mentioned.
Ankerberg: What I think that you are establishing is a criteria for historical writings and that rule, the first rule would be that anybody that writes about an event, if you have five different witnesses, they’d better all say the same thing, no matter what, otherwise it’s not accurate.
Montgomery: Identical. Identical things.
Naland: No. No…
Ankerberg: Okay, if they didn’t say identical things…
Naland: …But when the women got there…
Ankerberg: Okay, hold on. If you say “No,” if you say, “No,”…
Naland: Okay.
Ankerberg: …then on what basis would you allow Mark to differ with Luke when Mark says, “I want to concentrate on this” and he names somebody that Luke mentions, but Luke wants to also include two others and so Luke does truthfully and Mark does truthfully.
Naland: Okay. May I talk?
Montgomery: Surely!
Naland: Okay. So the women get to the tomb, however many there were; who knows. The women get to the tomb, and they see a man, men, an angel or angels. Okay? Whatever. Now, were those angels or men inside the tomb or outside? Because at an instant in history, they were either here or there.

Ankerberg: Now, did those visiting the tomb see angels or men? Well, it’s not contradictory for the four gospel writers to refer to the angels as either men or as angels. Both are correct. Why? Well, throughout the Bible it is not uncommon to find angels first described as men and then as angels or vice versa. Genesis 19 is just one example of what can be found many places concerning angels. Genesis 19:1 reads, “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.” A few verses down, in verse 5 we read, “The men of Sodom called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men that came to you tonight?’” Referring to the angels. Obviously the angels looked like men.
Another example is Judges 13:9-10 where we read, “And the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, ‘Behold, the man [referring to the angel] who came the other day has appeared to me.’”
Again, first the person is identified as an angel, secondly, he’s identified as a man. A careful study of all the passages, both Old and New Testament, will reveal that whenever angels appear to men, they’re almost always described as looking just like men. Throughout the Bible, angels may specifically reveal that they are angels in some unique way, as they did in Matthew 28:2-3, or they may keep their angelic nature entirely hidden. For example, Hebrews 13:2 states, “Some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Of the four gospel writers, Matthew specifically states it was an angel of the Lord that came down from heaven. [Matt. 28:2] Mark says, “They saw a young man dressed in a white robe.” [Mark 16:5] But something about him alarmed the women. Luke identifies the persons present as being angels. He says, “Two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.” Luke also records the women were frightened by them. [Luke 24:4-5] John specifically says Mary saw two angels in white. [John 20:12]
So in brief, the four gospel writers’ descriptions of angels is not unique to them. They agree with how angels are described throughout the rest of Scripture.
But then Mr. Naland thinks the writers have erred in reporting how many angels the women saw. Well, first we must remember the four gospel writers are describing that period of time from before dawn on Easter Sunday morning, until late that night. If we summarize, their description starts with Jesus’ resurrection. Then an earthquake occurred as an angel descended and rolled away the stone. The guards are frightened by the angel and flee.
After a period of time, Mary Magdalene who is on her way to meet her other women companions at the tomb arrives before the others do. She sees that the stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty. She immediately goes to tell Peter and John. After she leaves, the other Mary and Salome approach the tomb and see the angel described in Matthew 28:5 and then they leave. Then Joanna and the other women arrive at the tomb and they see the two angels mentioned in Luke 24:1.
In the meantime, Mary Magdalene reaches Peter and John, tells them about the stone being rolled away. They immediately leave her and run to the empty tomb. Mary slowly follows behind and again arrives at the tomb but after Peter and John have already departed. Standing all alone, weeping, she looks into the tomb and sees the two angels recorded in John 20:12.
Now, this harmonization of the gospel accounts suggests a plausible sequence of events detailing who came to the tomb and when. There are no contradictions.
Finally, were the angels inside or outside of the tomb? And how many were there. If we assume that beings called angels do exist, it is reasonable to assume that even angels will sometimes move during the day; that they may come and go as they please and appear and disappear as they please.
I believe all the accounts agree that the angels were inside the tomb.
Second, all the accounts agree that the angels were sitting.
Third, all the accounts agree in what the angels said to the women to tell the disciples.
Now, first, do all the accounts agree that the angels were inside the tomb? Well, as we’ve already seen, the appearance of the two angels to Mary is a different account entirely than the events described by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mary’s encounter takes place after Peter and John have left the tomb to go and tell the others what has happened. Both Mark and Luke agree that the angels were inside the tomb. Mark states, “In entering the tomb, they [that’s the women] saw a young man sitting at the right.” [Mark 16:5] Luke states, “The women found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered,… behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling apparel.” [Luke 24:2-4] So both Mark and Luke agree that the angels were inside the tomb.
But how about Matthew. At first glance, Matthew’s account seems to place the angel sitting on the stone outside of the tomb. In fact, all the events seem to happen one after another in Matthew’s account with no time passing in between them. But in other parts of his gospel, Matthew compresses events in his record the same way, leaving out periods of time between the events that he’s recording and joining the events all together without pausing. For example, if you compare Matthew 21:8-23 with Mark 11:8-33, you will find Matthew joins the events of three days to make it sound like it happened in just two. In chapter 28 Matthew again has compressed his account of events, leaving out periods of time and the things that took place during that time, and then joins them all together.
Now, the way we know this is because the other gospel writers describe other events that happened in those time gaps. Remember, ancient writers did not have parentheses or other modern techniques of writing that clearly depict the difference in time in which the events they are describing happened. They just join them together. But I believe that Matthew 28:1 speaks of the women. It should be separated in time from Matthew 28:2-4 where Matthew describes first the earthquake, then the angel descending, the stone being rolled away, the angel scaring the guards away. After these events, I believe there’s another time gap and some time later, after the angel has scared the guards away, the events mentioned in verses 5-8 take place. By the time these events take place, I believe the angel has gone from outside the tomb to inside the tomb. Why? Well, because the angel says to the women, “Come, see the place where He was lying.” [Matt. 28:6] These words fit with the angel being inside the tomb.
Now, it is the critic who wrongly assumes that Matthew has stated the angel always remained outside the tomb and that there cannot be any passage of time between the events described in verses 2-4 and those beginning with verse 5. Clearly, the angel was outside the tomb at one point, namely, when he scared the guards away. But Matthew never states that the angel stayed outside the tomb and could not change locations. And there would be good reason for the angel to change location, the first being so he wouldn’t frighten the women away. And second, so he could speak to them and tell them why the body was not present where it had been placed.
How many angels were at the tomb? The only way we will know what happened in the periods of time Matthew does not record is to read the accounts of the other gospel writers. And obviously, it is clear from the other gospel accounts that the one angel, after scaring the soldiers outside the tomb, went into the tomb so as not the scare the women. Another angel appeared in the tomb with him.
But then how about the position the angels are seen to be in? The difference between Mark and Luke concerning whether the angels were sitting or standing can be cleared up by examining the Greek word that is used. Luke says, “Two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling apparel.” [Luke 24:4] The word that is translated “stood,” epistison, can also be translated “appeared.” For example, in Luke 2:9 this same word is used where it says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” So it would be correct to read of the women in the tomb that two men suddenly appeared near them in dazzling apparel.
Luke is probably stressing the suddenness of the angels’ appearing to the women, while Mark is emphasizing that when the angels did appear, they were seated, a position that would be calculated to put the women at ease. There is no contradiction in the accounts about the angels’ position.
Finally, all the accounts harmonize in reporting what the angel said to the women. If we combine the messages given in Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is easy to reconstruct the original message given by one of the two angels. The angel said, “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.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke each report part of the angel’s message. Here is what Matthew remembered and reported. Mark reports almost the same words, while Luke chooses to report this part of the angel’s message. In doing so, the writers do not contradict each other; they complement each other.
In brief, there is no contradiction between the gospel writers in answering the questions: Did the women see angels or men? How many angels did they see? Were the angels inside or outside the tomb? And what did the angel say?

Montgomery: There is way on the face of the earth that you can place this kind of demand on historical narratives. If you attempted to subject other historical narratives to this kind of criterion, you simply would have none of them relating anything.
Naland: We’re not talking about Caesar crossing the Rubicon, we’re talking about the most significant claimed event in world history.
Montgomery: Certainly we are. And this…
Naland: It doesn’t happen every day.
Montgomery: …and this highly significant event of world history is described by eyewitnesses and by close associates of eyewitnesses and the overlap, the agreement, is about 95%. And where there isn’t agreement, there is complementation. Thus there certainly were guards there; there were certainly angels or messengers there; the guards were there at certain times, gone at certain times; the angels were there at certain times and not at others; the various people who came and witnessed this appeared at various times. You can put these together…
Ankerberg: Let’s take one of the other events. You say that there’s a duplicity of authors and it’s proven by the fact that in the account about Mary in talking to the gardener…. And it has to do with the fact of her turning, where apparently when the gardener who was really the Lord is speaking to Mary, she speaks to Him and the Bible says, “She turns and she speaks to Him.” [John 20:14] And then the conversation goes on. And then Jesus says, “Mary,” and mentions her name, and again she turns. [John 20:16] Now, you say that because the Scripture, the writer there, uses the word that “she turned” and he says it two times, that therefore you know that we have two different authors or that we have conflict…
Montgomery: “Disjoints,” I believe, is what the article said.
Naland: I hope I did not say that “I know,” but all I can say…
Montgomery: May I quote Naland?
Naland: Fine.
Montgomery: “Notice that ancient editing has resulted” – not “might have,” “could have,” “possibly did” – “Notice that ancient editing has resulted in several disjoints in the present text, such as Mary turning twice around to face Jesus during the course of a single uninterrupted conversation.” [emphasis added] Now, the only conclusion to this, Mr. Naland, is that “nobody has a right to turn around in conversation with one other person.” You are assuming that people have got to act in a certain way, or they never operated historically at all. And really, human beings are diverse and complicated and human motivation is very, very difficult to understand.
And historians, when they come across events, don’t go in with a kind of wooden metaphysical structure as to what people have got to do. What they try to do is to discover from the eyewitnesses what did happen. I mean, there is nothing in this universe that did not permit Mary, for reasons we don’t know, to turn around and then turn back. And if you go into the narratives that way, of course you’re not going to get anywhere with them. But these narratives deserve more than you’re willing to give them.
Ankerberg: Thank you, gentlemen. And Mr. Naland, thank you for being with us tonight. We appreciate your thoughts and also the fact that you would share from your heart so many of these things. And also, Dr. Montgomery, we appreciate you being here and responding on behalf of the documents and orthodox Christianity.
And for you that are watching, now you have to take this evidence and you have to do something with it. You have to think about it and you have to evaluate that evidence. Did a man really live by the name of Jesus Christ? Was He really seen by hundreds of people? Did eyewitnesses really see Him after He died on a cross? And is He the Son of God as He claimed? And does that have an impact on you? I hope that you’ll think about it seriously.

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