Liberal theologians and atheists try to charge that the Bible is in error, since the resurrection passages in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John differ.
Do the resurrection passages differ?  If so, are the differences significant?  Let us examine these passages.

empty tomb photoThe Resurrection Passages in the Gospels


In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. (Matthew 28:1-10)[1]


And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. (Mark 16:1-9)


And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. (Luke 23:55-24:12)


The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:1-17)

book with a gavel on itWhere the Gospels Agree

In the important details

The gospels agree with each other on the following:
  • Women were the first people to discover that the tomb was empty. In first-century Palestine, women were regarded as second-class; in fact, their testimony was not admissible in court. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were to make up a story, they would have most certainly have claimed that men, who had more credibility, discovered the empty tomb.
  • The tomb was discovered empty very early on Sunday morning around dawn.
  • Nobody attempted to anoint the body of Jesus before Sunday due to the sabbath.
  • The stone at the entrance to the sepulcher (tomb) was rolled away before the women arrived, although only Matthew's gospel explains how (an angel).
  • The tomb was empty!
  • The resurrected Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark makes this clear), which is probably why she is so prominent in the empty tomb passages.
  • Peter ran to the sepulcher after the women told the apostles that the tomb was empty, although Mark and Matthew do not mention any of the apostles going to the sepulcher.

The Questions

Who's Right?

Who went to the sepulcher (tomb)?

Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and other women.; John only mentions Mary Magdalene. In all four gospels, Mary Magdalene was mentioned first. She was clearly the most prominent. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention Mary, the mother of James. However, neither Matthew nor John state that only the named women came. The other women may have been less important to Matthew and John. The common thread is that women discovered that the tomb was empty.

How could they buy spices after the Sabbath was past, but before dawn the next day? At that epoch, according to the Jerusalem Talmud of Berakhoth, the Sabbath began on Friday night at the appearance of the stars, and ended on Saturday night, also at the appearance of the stars. Therefore, shops could re-open on Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath; and the women could have bought the spices then.

Matthew and Mark mention one angel, and Luke mentions two. None of the four gospels mentions the total number of angels present. Yes, some of the quotes from the angels were different; like the four gospels stating different quotes from Jesus when He hung on the cross, the gospels probably had different quotes from the angels at the tomb.

The empty tomb was discovered by women. As stated above, if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were to make up a story, they would almost certainly have stated that they (the apostles) discovered that the tomb was empty.

Also, if the passages about the empty tomb agreed 100 percent, most Bible scholars would have believed that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down together when they penned the gospels to make sure that their stories agreed.

The Resurrection Is Necessary for Salvation

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)


[1] All scripture references are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. Please see my about page for why I chose this translation.