- "Why do the accounts
at Jesus' tomb conflict?”
I was recently asked this question by a visitor to our website. This young
man was engaged in a discussion with another who denies the Bible is the
inspired word of God. This was evidently one of the arguments that was made.
If the Bible was really the word of God, then there would not be any
contradictions in how the events at the tomb of Jesus are recorded. Often
times the charges that the gospels contradict are based on the women who are
mentioned as going to the tomb early that Sunday morning.
My answer: “They don't (conflict). A conflict would be an irreconcilable
difference. Different perspectives of the same event is not a conflict.”
“If you have a genuine conflict in mind, I would like to know what it
“Example: The number of women who went to the tomb. There is a deference
in number, but only because they are written from different perspectives.
John follows only Mary Magdalene and does not mention the others who went to
the tomb. All of them agree that she went. Matthew also says "the other
Mary" went to the tomb that morning. Mark and Luke agree with Matthew. John
does not say that the other Mary did not go, so there is no conflict. Salome
also went according to Mark. None of the others say she didn't so there is
no conflict. Luke says a woman by the name of Joanna also went. None of the
others deny this so there is no conflict. “
Note now the inspired records in the gospels:
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. (Matthew 28:1)
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and
Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. (Mark 16:1)
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. (Luke
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb,
while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
I then explained what it would take for there to be a genuine conflict: If
John had said, "Only Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and no one else
went." If one said "Joanna went to the tomb" and another said
"Joanna did not go to the tomb." Those would be conflicts, but there are
I then illustrated it this way: “Suppose police were investigating what
happened at a party at which there was Mary M and Mary and Joanna and Salome
present. They ask you, "What happened at the party?" You respond, Mary M.
was there. She arrived at 7:30."
Then they ask me the same thing. I respond, "Mary M was there, as was
Joanna. Joanna arrived later than Mary."
Then another witness responds to the same question: "There were two
people named 'Mary' there."
Finally, a fourth witness says, "Salome was at the party as well as some
There is no conflict in these reports. They can all be true. They are told
from different perspectives and different aspects of the same event are
mentioned. We would expect such in witness testimony even when all the
witnesses are telling the truth.
I challenged: Neither is there genuine conflict in the Biblical account of
the tomb. They can all be true as stated. If you find one... a genuine
conflict... then please let me know.
The young man wrote back and responded this way: “I wasn't saying that
they all didn't go to the tomb, but did they go at different times? How many
angles appeared? If you put all the accounts together how do they fit?”
This suggested to me that he was also having a problem with the angels at
the tomb. I responded this way:
We are not given an exact time frame. We are not told that all the women
traveled together. We are not even told that they set out to the tomb from
the same place... they could have easily spent the night in different
quarters. We only know that some of them, at least, traveled to the tomb as
dawn was approaching.
As far as the number of angels, there are at least two, but only one did the
talking (or, at least, most of it).
Matthew mentions one... the one who descended from heaven and rolled the
stone away and then sat upon it. Later, when the women arrive, he speaks to
them. But Matthew does not say there were no other angels, but just
emphasizes this one.
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are
looking for Jesus who has been crucified. (Matthew 28:5).
Mark says it was inside the tomb where the angel spoke to the women. But we
do not know if it was the same angel or a different one. But whether it was
or not, there were two, though only one of them may have spoken initially.
Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a
white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed;
you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has
risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him."
Luke lets us know that here were at least two angels altogether. Perhaps
Matthew and Mark emphasize the one who did most of the talking. Also, the
fact that Luke says concerning the angels, "and they said" does not
necessarily mean that they talked in unison. (Like, if someone said "The
two police officers came to my house and they asked me where I was last
night" does not mean they both did the talking).
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near
them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their
faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living
One among the dead?" (Luke 24:4-5).
John follows Mary Magdalene, who we find out does not enter the tomb at all
as the other women did. As soon as she sees the stone rolled away, and
before meeting the angels, she runs back to tell the apostles. When Peter
and John run back to the tomb to investigate, it is empty... by the time
they get there, neither the women nor the angels are still present.
There simply is no conflict about the angels either. Now, if one of the
gospels had said "There was only one angel" and another said
"There were not less than two angels" then that would be a conflict. But
these are not conflicts. Skeptics and doubters would like for them to be,
and sometimes blindly insist that these are contradictions, but they are
not. Our faith in Jesus and the Bible is well placed.
From The Bradley Banner 11/6/2005
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
Bradley, IL 60915