A Theological/Bible Related Commentary
When last we left Mary Magdalene, she and “the other Mary” had returned to Jerusalem to inform Jesus’ immediate male disciples that they met the risen Jesus, and that he was to meet them in person in Galilee.
In Matthew’s gospel, the two Mary’s first encounter a lone angel, at dawn, sitting atop the entrance tomb stone who informs the pair that Jesus has risen from the dead. The angel then gets up off the stone and actually directs the two to the empty tomb―perhaps even having to side-step the “dead-like” Roman guard unit lying incapacitated on the ground to do so (cf. Matthew 28:6). It is only now that Mary Magdalene becomes aware that Jesus’ body is missing.
What, then, are we to make of the fact that Mary Magdalene had already encountered two angels inside the tomb AND met the risen Jesus earlier―according to John, Chapter 20?
It is vitally important to realize that Matthew’s account patently contradicts the Gospel of John as to how Mary Magdalene comes to discover the empty tomb.
In John, chapter 20, Mary Magdalene sees that the entrance stone has been rolled back in the pre-dawn; discovers Jesus’ body is missing; then hurries back to Jerusalem to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple of it. The three then rush to the tomb with the Beloved Disciple arriving first, but with Peter being the first to actually enter the tomb.
Notice that contrary to Matthew’s gospel there is no angel sitting atop the entrance stone outside the tomb, nor a Roman guard unit lying dazed and confused on the ground at any point thus far. Moreover, Mary Magdalene is certainly not “escorted” to the empty tomb by an angel as in Matthew 28:6, now is she?
Peter and the Beloved Disciple return to Jerusalem when Mary Magdalene, now standing just outside the tomb entrance, peers into the tomb. It is only now that any angels appear on scene in John’s gospel. Two suddenly materialize inside the tomb sitting on the slab where Jesus’ body once lay. Moments later, the risen Jesus appears and asks Mary why she is crying. He then asks who she is looking for. Notice that Jesus does not ask “them, ” who they are looking for. John keeps it purely in the singular here. There is no mention whatever of any other follower of Jesus other than Mary Magdalene on scene. Since this is the case, I will argue that the very questionable “we” passage―used by Christian apologists to maintain that multiple female disciples accompanied Mary to the tomb―in John 20:2,
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!'” (emphasis mine),
is either an interpolation inserted by some early Christian attempting to portray at least some semblance of harmonization with the other three gospels, or else Mary simply chose to use the first person plural for the first person singular in this instance.
In any event, it is important to note that “we” does not fit the context of what preceded it in any way. And note too that the Oriental, the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions of this text read, “I know not where they have laid him” (emphasis mine), not “we.”
As stated, John’s gospel reports that both angels and the risen Jesus ask Mary Magdalene who she is looking for. In Matthew’s gospel, however, the angel seated on the entrance stone already knows who Mary is looking for and says so prior to the two Mary’s discovering that Jesus’ body is missing (cf. Matthew 28:6). So too, the angel inside the tomb in Mark 16:6:
“And he [the angel] saith unto them [Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome], 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.” (KJV)
(Memo to Christian fundamentalists: You can’t make a square peg fit this round hole. You simply can’t. There is no way to squirm out of these contradictory accounts and remain intellectually honest in doing so. Your “faith” does not make these contradictory “empty tomb” accounts all magically become literally “true.” And no amount of wishful thinking will do the trick either.)
Yet Christian apologists will argue that the four evangelists have recorded mere snippets of what actually took place at the empty tomb: each from their own, unique perspective; with one gospel author adding some bit of information another evangelist fails to reveal; with one gospel author choosing to cite just part of an angel’s remarks, while another cites them in full; with one evangelist focusing on just the “lead” angel, while another feels they both deserve the spotlight.
But try as one might, it is still impossible to mesh all four empty tomb accounts into one flaw-free cohesive whole. It’s just not possible.
Christian commentators, therefore, have resorted to two alternative means of “resolving” the matter. The first is to cry that Christians are in a “no-win” situation because we skeptics would cry “foul” if the four gospel accounts actually agreed with each other; citing that we would charge the evangelists with fraudulently “conspiring” to compose a fault-free set of reports.
But that is sheer poppycock and every atheist knows it. The New Testament has far greater problems than finding certain accounts suspiciously made to agree with one another. Besides, this “tack” does nothing to explain away the patent contradictions involved, now does it?
The second approach is to actually agree that trying to mesh the four empty tomb accounts into one cohesive whole is hopeless! So this body of Christians argue that the contradictions matter not one whit: that it is far more important that the four accounts agree in general, and that is what makes the preposterous accounts of Jesus’ resurrection “true“!
So much for the historical “accuracy” of the gospel accounts!
So much for “God” directing “flawless” scripture.
And so much for bible “inerrancy” too.
Next Time: I’ll tackle the topic of “Prayer”.