Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Part 3: Contradictions about What Was Seen Regarding the Stone at Jesus' Tomb? NO!

As you recall, this is Part 3 in a series of responses to one skeptical challenge regarding the gospels' accounts speaking about the tomb of Jesus.  If you want a more elaborated response to these, I will be presenting them this Fall in a course that I am currently writing and will be teaching that will be focused on the defense of the Resurrection of Christ.  For now, let's move to this entry's issue:  Are there any contradictions toward what was seen at the Jesus' tomb regarding the stone?  In this entry, it can be clearly seen that there are no contradictions.

Setting Up the Problem

Mattew's gospel records for us that there was an earthquake and an angel rolled away the stone, and there were guards that were trembling watching this happen (28:2,3). Mark's, Luke's and John's gospels record for us that the stone was already rolled back (Mk. 16:2-4; Luke 24:1-2).  The only difference between John and the other two is that John uses language that the "stone had already been taken away (20:1,2).

The question comes from the skeptic is that since Mark, Luke and John record that the stone was already rolled away, and Matthew does not, there must be a problem with Matthew's gospel.  Is this true?
Response to the Issue.

This is really not a problem.  The only problem is found in the challenge's lack of understanding of the fact that writers of each gospel account have their personalities in their writing and had the freedom to record what the Spirit of God guided them to write.  Again, the inspiration that came to the writers of Scripture was not 100% dynamic dictation.(1)  The writers personalities were totally in tact.

This being said, we know that Mark, Luke and John all agree that the stone was already rolled away before the women got to the tomb.  Remember they SAW the stone rolled away as they were arriving at the tomb site.  So, what's the deal with Matthew, why does he not say the same thing?

Well, if you look at the passage first thing we see is that Matthew provides with WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STONE.  There was an earthquake, "for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came and rolled back the stone, and sat on it."(2)  Matthew is essentially giving us more information than the other two, which is usually an indicator of authenticity rather than being in-genuine.

If one is so inclined to challenge Matthew, a couple things should be remembered.  First is that Matthew is not bound to record the exact same things as the other gospel writers.  He gives us more information and he jumps from the earthquake and trembling guards to the angel speaking to the women.  Writing with his mind totally in tact was supervised by the Holy Spirit, which brings me to the second point.

Second, we have a little enemy attestation in this same chapter(3). Where is this testimony from the enemy?  Right in the same chapter, 

11While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

So we have more details from one of the gospel writers which confirm how the stone was rolled away and we have some rough tough Roman guards that fell like dead men when the supernatural event of an earthquake and an angel that could whip up on an entire Roman legion came down and rolled the stone away.  

Sounds like no contradictions to me.  If there are any problems, they are with the person looking for the contradictions ignoring the context of the accounts as they fall together.  This in most cases is due to a lack of understanding of the Bible.  

If you have lost track of these entries, please refer to the previous entries in this series.(4)  After reading this and the other postings in this series, what do you think?


(1) Rob Bradshaw notes that Dictation Theory means that God dictated the Scriptures to the writers and that the men who penned the Scriptures acted like typewriters taking the dictation while God spoke.  In other words, God took over by totally overriding their minds and personalities - hit the right keys. This theory has been consistently rejected over the centuries and no respected theologian or church leader has ever held it.  For more on the subject of inspiration you may go to Rob Bradshaw's Biblical Studies page found at

(2) Matt. 28:2; Usually when the presence of God shows up, and an angel is present, you see the earthquake occurring with the event.  All through the Scripture whenever you see the presence of God, the earth is trembling.

(3) Habermas and Licona have a great section on this in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.  Enemy attestation simply stated, is when there is "testimony affirming an event or a saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account we have an indication of authenticity" (Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case of the Resurrection of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004: 37,38).

(4)  Other postings in this series:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Part 2: What Time of the Morning Did the Women Go to the Tomb? No Contradictions

Picking up where I left off with the challenge of answering the challenge to so called contradictions in the Garden Tomb accounts of the gospels, the next one deals with the time of the morning that the women arrived at the tomb of Jesus.

Setting up the "problem".

What do the gospel writers tell us. First, Matthew: “it began to dawn the first day…” (v.1). Second there seems to be an issue with what Mark tells us in his gospel, “when the sun had risen”(v. 2). Luke and John fall in line with Matthew, where Luke tells us that they went "at early dawn" (v. 1) and John tells us that they went to the tomb “while it was still dark (v. 1)

Well you might say, "aw shucks, It is at least early in the morning." But what about Mark? Why does it seem that he does not agree with the other gospel writers? Here is the answer.


By definition, dawn is the moment that marks the beginning of the twilight before sunrise. It is recognized by the presence of weak sunlight, while the sun itself is still below the horizon. Dawn should not be confused with sunrise, which is the moment when the leading edge of the sun itself appears above the horizon.

I went and found a Astronomical dawn is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the moment after which the sky is no longer completely dark, formally defined as the time at which the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the morning. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Astronomical Terms")

Bearing these factors in mind, dawn by the given definitions, is definitely before sunup (Matthew’s gospel). Dawn can be considered right at the crack of dawn (Luke’s gospel). John’s gospel states while it was still dark outside. Dawn is not sunrise, so therefore it is safe to consider the setting as still dark.

Now some might have a conflict with Mark’s phrase after sunup. The problem with the English text is that it gives the assumption that the sun is already up, but the Greek NT gives a participial form of the verb Mark 16:2, “at the rising” (anatailantos). This phrase "at the rising” means that the sun is still not completely risen. This then would agree with the other gospel writers and we can conclude that the English translations of Mark 16:2 would be better rendered "at the rising of the sun". Therefore there is no contradiction between any of the Garden Tomb accounts by the gospel writers.

Please feel free to interact with anything that you read in this series or anything else you see on this blog. Please feel free to send any questions you may have as I would enjoy visiting with you and helping you with your questions or your sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Part 1: Who are the ones who go to the grave? Do the accounts contradict one another?

Christian apologetics has many facets to it. It can delve into the philosophical to take on questions coming from worldviews clashing with the Christian faith. It can dig into the realm of the scientific to show how intelligent design tackles the issues coming from the evolutionist. One of my favorite angles in the apologetic task is taking on the challenges from those who say that the Scriptures contradict one another.

This is the Resurrection holiday season, and what I would like to share with you is a multi-faceted challenge that came from one skeptic that has to do with the accounts at Jesus' tomb that first resurrection morning.

Some of these will be very easy. There are a few that will have a little bit of challenge to them, but one thing you can be rest assured of: THERE ARE NO CONTRADICTIONS.

Let me set up the "problem" and then unpack it for us. This first one has to do with who were the ones that really went to the grave. Here is how it is set up.


In Matthew's gospel, it is recorded that two women went down to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” (Matt 28:1-8) Mark's gospel states that three women go down to the tomb, "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. And they have spices. (See Mark 16:1-8). If we go to Luke's gospel (24:1-12), we see that he records a group of women go down to the tomb, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and they have spices. Joanna's name is added in there as well. Why does John tell us that Mary Magdalene shows up at the tomb alone (see 20:1-13)?


Really this is not a problem at all. Three of the gospel writers, writing under the guise of the Holy Spirit with their personalities in tact, record for us that at least two of the women going to the tomb: (1) Matthew: two women (the other Mary and Mary Magdalene; (2) Mark: accounts for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (i.e., the other Mary and Salome); (3) Luke tells us in 24:1, that “they came” to the tomb. But he doesn’t give us any more details as to who the "they" are. That comes in verse 10, "Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles."

The common woman among all the gospels is Mary Magdalene. Though she is the lone woman in John's gospel, all four Evangelists give us her name as an eyewitness at the empty tomb.

Before speaking to this, let me enter in here that John’s account just tells us that it was Mary Magdalene. John's mentioning her in his gospel does not conflict. It is pretty clear that Mary the mother of James was there. Since Luke gives us a clue that a group of women went to the tomb, Salome is mentioned as one of the women, as is Joanna.

The gospel writers, John included were not stripped of their liberties in recording for us what the Holy Spirit led them to pen down for us. They were given the full liberty of their personalities in their writings. To say anything otherwise handcuffs the writers, and the Holy Spirit of their liberties and places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the critic, who commits that appeal to authority fallacy. These boys had corroborative eyewitness testimony, which is something that the modern day critic of Scripture does not have.

So this is not a conflicting passage. To smuggle in one's prejudices to refute the authenticity of this account is to pigeon hole that prejudice as a false sense of authority on the text.