Reason 22: ‘The Resurrection accounts are deeply conflicted.
Asher Norman lists 24 alleged discrepancies in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion
and resurrection of Jesus. There is a definite similarity between his objections
to the resurrection accounts and those found on an anti-Christian atheist website
‘Jesus never existed.’ Asher Norman does not include of course what that website
says about Judaism: ‘Much of the mythology of Christianity is a rehash of an older
and even more transparent fabrication – Judaism.’
I have dealt with the 7 discrepancies he finds in the crucifixion account in our
article The crucifixion accountsso now we will look at the resurrection account.
He says that ‘Christianity stands or falls by the so-called resurrection accounts
in the Christian Bible. There is no concept in the Jewish Bible that the Messiah
ben David will die before completing his mission, be resurrected or be a deity.’
He comments on the verse in John 20.9 ‘For as yet they did not know the Scripture
that he (Jesus) must rise again from the dead.’ They ‘did not as yet know the Scripture’
because it does not exist in the Jewish Bible.’
As we have shown in our article The crucifixion accountsit is not strictly true
to say there is no concept of the Messiah dying and being resurrected in Judaism.
Asher Norman, in common with most rabbis today, completely deletes the concept of
‘Messiah ben Joseph’, the Suffering Messiah, who according to some Jewish commentaries
is to be found prophesied in Isaiah 53 (See our article Isaiah 53 – The Suffering
Servant).This one does suffer, die and be resurrected.
Commenting on Zechariah 12:10, where the prophet says Israel will ‘look upon me whom
they have pierced’, Rabbi Alshech writes: ‘For they shall lift up their eyes unto
me in perfect repentance when they see him whom they have pierced, that is Messiah,
the Son of Joseph. For our rabbis of blessed memory have said that he will take
upon himself all the guilt of Israel, and then shall be slain in the war to make
an atonement, in such a manner, that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced
him, for on account of their sin he has died, and therefore in order that it may
be reckoned to them as a perfect atonement, they will repent, and look to the Blessed
One, saying that there is none beside him to forgive those that mourn on account
of him who died for their sin; this is the meaning of ‘They shall look upon me.’’
That this passage (Zechariah 12:10) refers to the Messiah is admitted by Aben Ezra
and Abarbanel, and also by Rashi in his commentary on the Talmud.
Some Talmudic sources (Sanhedrin 97a; Ketubot 111b) imply that Messiah Ben Joseph,
the Suffering Messiah, was to be resurrected from the dead. This resurrected Messiah
is the Messiah with David-like conquering characteristics. ‘Messiah Ben Joseph will
be pierced through by Armilus, after which there will be much tribulation. Then,
the Messiah, called Menahem Ben Ami-El, appears to the remnant of Israel. He, together
with Elijah, brings to life Messiah Ben Joseph, and then the rest of the dead’.
See Galut, p. 315, quoted by Rachmiel Frydland ‘The exalted Messiah ben David’ http://www.menorah.org/tembd14.html
As to prophecies of the resurrection, Isaiah 53 speaks of ‘the Servant’ who will
be put to death (Isaiah 53.8 ‘He was cut off from the land of the living’) and yet
who will ‘see His seed, He shall prolong His days’ (Isaiah 53.10). The only way
someone who has been put to death can do this is if he is resurrected. The Psalm
which Peter quotes in connection with the resurrection of Jesus in Acts 2.25 also
speaks of one who is resurrected from Sheol, the place of the dead.
‘For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see
corruption. You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of
joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.’ Psalm 16.10-11.
As Peter pointed out in his Pentecost speech David remained in the tomb, but Jesus
did not. In terms of the general resurrection of the dead, in the understanding
of the prophets ‘Sheol’ is the place where all the dead go, with an implied separation
between the wicked dead and the righteous dead. For someone to rise out of Sheol
implies an unusual or miraculous event taking place.
Discrepancies in the Gospel accounts?
Asher Norman goes on to enumerate a number of alleged discrepancies in the accounts
in the Gospels which he says show that the story of the resurrection is not credible.
The main issues he raises are these:
When was the stone placed over the tomb where Jesus was laid removed? Before the
women arrived at the tomb (John 20.1, Mark 16.4, Luke 24.2) or after they arrived
How many women went to the tomb? One (John 20.1), three (Mark 16.1), four (Luke
How many angels appeared at the tomb and what did they tell the women?
Where and to whom did the risen Jesus first reveal himself? Mary Magdalene at the
tomb (John 20.1, 11-14), Mary Magdalene on the way to Galilee (Mark 16.7,9), Cleopas
and another (Luke 24.13, 18), two Marys on the way to Jerusalem (Matthew 26.16),
Cephas (Peter) at an unknown location (1 Corinthians 15.5).
How many disciples were present when the risen Jesus appeared to them? Eleven (Matthew
28.16, Mark 16.14, Luke 24.33) or ten (John 20.24) or twelve (Matthew 27.5, Acts
1.18, 1 Corinthians 15.5).
Did the angels / Jesus tell Mary he would appear in Galilee? Yes (Matthew 28.7-10,
Mark 16.6, Luke 24.5). No (John 20.12-18). Where did Jesus post resurrection appearances
take place? Jerusalem (Luke) or Galilee (Matthew).
A number of issues about the women’s state of mind and actions following the news
that Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalene was either ‘grief stricken’ (John 20.13,15)
or ‘joy filled’ (Matthew 28.8-9). The women ‘kept the news to themselves’ (Mark
16.8) or ‘rushed to inform the disciples’ (Luke 24.9, Matthew 28.8). Was Mary Magdalene
permitted to touch Jesus after the resurrection? Yes (Matthew 28.9, Luke 24.39).
No (John 20.17).
How many times did Jesus appear after the resurrection? Four (John), three (Mark),
two (Luke), two (Matthew), six (1 Corinthians 15).
When did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit? On the first day of the resurrection
(John 20.22). On the day of Pentecost, fifty days later (Acts 1.5, 2.1-4).
Matthew’s account of the dead rising out of their tombs (Matthew 27.50-53) is a highly
unlikely event and should have been reported in Josephus, Philo, the Talmud and the
Asher Norman is correct to say that the resurrection is crucial to faith in Jesus
as the Messiah. Paul wrote:
‘For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Messiah died
for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose
again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas,
then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once,
of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After
that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen
by me also, as by one born out of due time.’ 1 Corinthians 15.3-8.
To those who questioned whether there is a resurrection from the dead, Paul wrote:
‘And if Messiah is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also
empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of
God that He raised up Messiah, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not
rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Messiah is not risen. And if Messiah is
not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who
have fallen asleep in Messiah have perished. If in this life only we have hope in
Messiah, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Messiah is risen from the
dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since
by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam
all die, even so in Messiah all shall be made alive.’ 1 Corinthians 15.14-22
From this we can conclude that faith in Jesus as Messiah and Saviour depends on His
resurrection from the dead. If he did not rise from the dead, this faith is futile.
If he did then those who put their faith in him will also experience resurrection
after death. This ties in with Jesus’ promise of eternal life to all who believe
in Him as Saviour and Lord.
We have accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in all four Gospels (Matthew
28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21) with additional material to be found in Acts 1.1-12,
1 Corinthians 15. For a reconstruction of the events of the resurrection from all
of these accounts please go to our article Resurrection Reconstruction.The accounts
are ‘telescoped’, especially in Matthew and Mark, which may give the impression that
the Gospels teach that all these events happened in one day, or followed on immediately
from each other, whereas in fact they took place over a period of 40 days in different
places – the Jerusalem area, then in Galilee and finally back to Jerusalem.
This ‘telescoping’ of events applies especially to Luke 24.50-53 which describes
the ascension of Jesus. A critic could read this to mean that Luke was saying that
Jesus ascended after His appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem on the day of the
resurrection. In this case Luke would be contradicting himself, since he also wrote
the Acts of the Apostles. Here he states that Jesus appeared to the disciples over
a period of forty days (Acts 1.3), at the end of which He ascended into heaven (Acts
1.9-11). Even unbelievers in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus should be able
to credit Luke with enough intelligence not to mean two radically different things
about the same event in his writings.
Witnesses testifying at the scene of an accident or in a court case often give similar
but not identical accounts of what happened. That is because they see the event
from their individual viewpoint, highlighting details which are important to them,
but which another may leave out. If all their stories are identical in every detail
it makes them more suspect.
All the Gospel writers agree on the basic facts of the crucifixion:
That Jesus rose on the third day.
That the stone was rolled away and the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb.
That the first to go to the tomb early in the morning of resurrection day were women.
That there were angels at the tomb who told them that Jesus was risen.
That the women and the disciples saw Jesus bodily risen from the dead (not as a spirit
or a figment of their imagination).
That Jesus communicated with them.
Because one writer gives added information does not mean his account contradicts
another writer who leaves out this information. Taking the four accounts together
we see that Jesus appeared over a period of 40 days to the disciples
Again in Jerusalem prior to his ascension.
Matthew and Mark major on the appearance in Galilee, Luke in Jerusalem and John in
both Jerusalem and Galilee.
It is quite logical that there should be appearances in these locations during this
time. Jesus was crucified at Passover time, becoming a type of the Passover sacrifice.
The lamb was slain and its blood placed on the door posts of the Israelite homes
to protect from the Angel of Death as he passed through the land of Egypt. So Jesus
was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, shedding His blood at Passover
time. Those who put their lives under the blood of the Messiah pass over from death
to eternal life.
The disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover week when Jesus rose from the dead
on the first day after the Sabbath during the Passover week. According to Leviticus
23.9-14 this is the Feast of First Fruits, the day for waving the sheaf for the first
fruits of the harvest. So in the typology of the Jewish feasts, Jesus was raised
on the day of ‘first fruits’, something which Paul picks up in 1 Corinthians 15 when
he refers to Messiah as the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection. The disciples remained
in Jerusalem for the Passover week with the second resurrection appearance taking
place at the end of this week (John 20.26).
Following this they returned to Galilee where further appearances took place. Then
at the end of the 40 day period during which Jesus appeared several times in His
resurrection body, they returned to Jerusalem and witnessed the ascension of Jesus
from the Mount of Olives. At the command of Jesus they remained in Jerusalem for
the feast of Shavuoth (Pentecost) when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. The
festival of Shavuoth remembers the giving of the Torah. At this festival the Lord
poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples by which they received the law written
on their hearts.
Specific points (as outlined in Asher Norman’s objections above).
1. When was the stone moved?
Asher Norman says Matthew 28.1-2 says that the stone was moved after the women arrived
at the tomb, whereas John 20.1, Mark 16.4 and Luke 24.2 say it was moved before they
It is correct to say that Mark, Luke and John’s account all place the moving of the
stone before the women arrived at the tomb. Mark 16.3-4 says that ‘they said among
themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ But
when they looked up they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very
Matthew creates a problem with this issue when he may be seen to say that this event
happened after the women ‘came to see the tomb’ (Matthew 28.1). The next verses
read, ‘And behold there was a great earthquake for an angel of the Lord descended
from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His
countenance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. And the guards
shook for fear of him and became like dead men.’ (Matthew 28.2-3)
So did Matthew say that the stone rolling away happened after the women arrived and
they saw it happen? Or is he putting in the detail of what had already happened
– that the stone was already rolled away when the women arrived at the tomb? In
this case there is no contradiction with the other gospels.
Matthew adds a detail not found in the other Gospels of the guards being shaken with
fear by what they saw. Presumably the women too would have been shaken with fear
at such a sight, but Matthew does not mention this. Since Matthew alone mentions
the guards this is not out of place in his account. It is likely that Matthew had
some inside information from one of the guards which he puts into the Gospel at this
point. Concerning the timing of the event he is saying that it had already happened
when the women arrived at the tomb.
2. How many women went to the tomb?
Asher Norman says that John 20.1 contradicts the other Gospels by saying that Mary
Magdalene went alone to the tomb, rather than being accompanied by other women.
John’s account centres on Mary Magdalene and her encounter with Jesus at the tomb.
He does not definitely say that she was alone. He says it was dark when she left,
and it is unlikely that a woman would have ventured out alone in the dark. Also,
her statement in 20:2 indicates the presence of others: ‘They have taken the Lord’s
body from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’ She did not say
‘I do not know where they have laid Him’ which would be the logical thing to say
if she had been alone at the tomb.
Mark’s account does list three women who went to the tomb early on the Sunday morning:
‘Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome
bought spices that they might come and anoint Him’ (Mark 16.1). They went to the
tomb in order to bring ‘spices and anoint Him’ (Mark 16.1). This was necessary to
complete the burial rites which had been hurried up on Friday because of the short
time before the Sabbath, and they had bought the additional spices which they had
prepared (Luke 24.1). Luke 24 indicates more women being at the tomb. According
to Luke 24.10 Joanna, accompanied by ‘the other women’, had also gone to the tomb
and then told these things to the apostles.
This can be explained as follows. Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter and John what
had happened (for more on this see point 4), leaving Salome and Mary the mother of
James at the tomb where they were joined by Joanna (and other female followers of
Jesus). They had previously agreed to come to the tomb to help complete the burial
rites. The angels appeared to all these women and told them Jesus had risen and they
went and told this news to the disciples.
3. How many angels appeared at the tomb and what did they tell the women?
Asher Norman says the Gospels conflict on a number of points about the angels.
How many of them and were they ‘men’ or angels?
Were they standing or sitting, inside or outside the tomb?
What did they tell the women?
How many angels? He says that John and Matthew conflict on this point – two angels
in John and one in Matthew. Also Mark and Luke do not speak of angels but men –
one man sitting inside (Mark 16.5) and two men sitting inside (Luke 24.4), whereas
Matthew speaks of one angel sitting outside (Matthew 28.5).
Firstly we will deal with the issue of ‘men’ or ‘angels’. Luke and Mark both do not
use the term angel in their accounts but rather ‘men’ or ‘young man.’ This does not
contradict Matthew, who uses the term ‘angel.’ In the Bible, angels are generally
depicted in the form of men, not winged creatures. For a clear example of this in
the Torah see Genesis 18-19, the appearance of two ‘men’ or ‘angels’ to Abraham and
their encounters in Sodom. In Genesis 18.16-22 Abraham’s visitors are described
as ‘the men’, but in Genesis 19.1 the same persons are described as ‘the two angels’.
In Mark, the awe and fear of the scene, as well as the man’s white robe, make it
clear that he was a supernatural young man, and therefore angel. Also, the description
in Luke 24:4 of their ‘dazzling apparel’ implies that these are supernatural beings.
Later on in Luke’s gospel it is confirmed that the men were in fact angels. The
women’s encounter at the tomb is described as a ‘vision of angels’ (Luke 24:23).
As to whether there were two of them or one of them it is not necessary to make an
issue out of this. The angel who spoke to the women in Matthew 28.5 (‘The angel answered
and said to the women’) was the same angel as described in Mark and Luke. The difference
is that Mark and Luke say he was accompanied by another angel. Matthew does not
rule out the fact that there may have been two angels there. He identifies one who
spoke to them and does not mention the other angel who Mark and Luke do mention.
As we have seen before it is quite common in the Gospels that one writer mentions
something which another leaves out.
The encounter of Mary Magdalene with the angels in John 20.12 is a separate event
from the encounter with the angel(s) in the other gospels (see point 4).
Sitting or standing? Asher Norman also makes an issue about whether the angels were
sitting in the tomb (Mark 16.5) or on the stone (Matthew 28.2) or standing in the
tomb (Luke 24.4).
When Luke says ‘two men stood by them in shining apparel’ in Luke 24.4, this does
not necessarily mean that two angels stood next to the women as they entered the
tomb. The word is frequently used to mean ‘to appear to,’ not implying any specific
position. Mark describes the angel appearing in a sitting position, which would
have minimised the alarm of their sudden presence. Also, they may not have fully
manifested themselves to the women until they entered, otherwise their majestic presence
might have made the women too fearful to approach and enter the tomb.
When Matthew describes the angel who rolled back the stone referred in Matthew 28.2
he is referring to an event which happened prior to the women arriving at the tomb
(see point 1): ‘An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back
the stone from the door and sat on it.’ This event terrified the soldiers guarding
the tomb and caused them to flee before the women arrived.
What did they tell the women? Asher Norman makes an issue about what the angels
told the women. In Matthew 28.6-7, Mark 16.6, Luke 24.5 they say that Jesus had risen
from the dead and would go before them to Galilee to meet them. He points out that
in John’s account there is nothing about angels present when Mary Magdalene went
to the tomb (John 20.2) and when they did appear to her in verses 12-13 they did
not say that Jesus was risen or that He was going to Galilee.
John’s account is dealing specifically with Mary Magdalene and we will look at that
issue in point 4. He does not contradict the other gospels, he simply supplies
information which is absent from theirs. He does not repeat the information they
supplied. This is consistent with John’s Gospel, which was certainly written after
the other three Gospels and gives added insights and information to theirs.
Matthew and Mark do say that Jesus would go before the disciples to Galilee (although
Luke does not say this in fact). We will look at the Galilee / Jerusalem issue in
point 7. The fact that Jesus said he would meet the disciples in Galilee does not
rule out him also meeting them in Jerusalem.
4. Where and to whom did the risen Jesus first reveal himself?
Asher Norman says the Gospels contradict each other on this point. He gives these
different answers to the question: Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20.1, 11-14),
Mary Magdalene on the way to Galilee (Mark 16.7,9), Cleopas and another (Luke 24.13,
18), two Marys on the way to Jerusalem (Matthew 26.16), Cephas (Peter) at an unknown
location (1 Corinthians 15.5).
The main problem here is with John’s Gospel and the role of Mary Magdalene so we
will deal with that first. As we have already seen in point 2 John does not necessarily
mean that Mary Magdalene was alone when she went to the tomb, but he does not mention
any other women as the other Gospels do.
John actually shows two visits to the tomb by Mary Magdalene. Firstly she goes at
daybreak and finds the tomb empty. Then she goes to find Peter and John and tell
them this. Then she comes back to the tomb following Peter and John. She stays there
alone after they have left. Then she has a personal encounter with the risen Lord
Asher Norman says this conflicts with Matthew who says that Jesus appeared to two
Marys on the way to Jerusalem (Matthew 28.9-10) and Mark who says Jesus meets her
on the way to Galilee (Mark 16.9). As a point of information Mark does not say anything
about Mary Magdalene being on the way to Galilee. He says that Jesus tells her He
is going to appear to the disciples in Galilee.
There is no doubt that this issue does raise a problem. In our reconstruction we
point out that in John’s account Mary Magdalene jumped to the conclusion that the
body had been stolen and therefore immediately ran back to tell Peter and John (John
20.2). The other Mary and Salome, the women mentioned in Mark would have remained
at the tomb. According to our interpretation of Luke they would then have been joined
by Joanna and possibly Susanna (see point 2). Matthew only mentions ‘the other Mary’
as accompanying Mary Magdalene, but this does not mean that could not have been other
women there also.
It was to these women that the angel appeared and gave the explanation as to what
had happened to the body of Jesus (Matthew 28.5-8, Mark 16.6-8, Luke 24.5-7). As
Salome and Mary of Clopas were considering what to do, Joanna and Susanna arrived
to help complete the burial rites, as they had previously agreed to. They went into
the tomb to verify that the body was in fact missing. The angels made themselves
visible and delivered their message, which included instructions to inform the disciples.
The women then went back into the city and headed for the house where the disciples
stayed (most likely a house owned or made available to John’s family – see our reconstruction).
Peter and John, having heard from Mary Magdalene that the body was missing, ran
to the tomb with Mary Magdalene trailing behind. John knew the city well and arrived
first. Joanna, being less familiar with Jerusalem, took a less direct route from
the tomb to John’s house, so the two groups did not meet.
Peter and John saw the empty tomb, but the angels did not make themselves visible.
Mary Magdalene lingered behind after Peter and John returned home. She saw the angels
in the tomb. They did not say anything to her about the resurrection because they
could see the risen Jesus standing behind her and about to make himself known to
her, which He did in the way described in John 20. She returned to John’s house
and joined the group staying there. According to our reconstruction there would
have been some disciples still over the Mount of Olives in Bethany where they had
fled to when Jesus was arrested. Some of the women headed to Bethany to tell the
disciples what had happened. On the way, they were met by Jesus (Matthew 28.9-10).
According to this scenario, Mary Magdalene remains the first to see the risen Lord,
as Mark 16.9 says. Then he was seen by the other women as they were on their way
to inform the other disciples about the empty tomb. Luke does not say anything about
Jesus appearing to the women.
Following this we have the event briefly described in Mark 16.12-13, where he appears
to ‘two of them as they walked into the country.’ A much fuller description of this
is given by Luke in the Emmaus road encounter of Cleopas and his companion. As we
pointed out in our reconstruction Cleopas was most likely the husband of ‘the other
Mary’ and the brother of Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus.
Sometime during the afternoon of Resurrection Day the Lord appeared to Peter (Simon),
which the disciples by now gathered in Jerusalem were aware of (Luke 24.34). This
is also the encounter which Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15.5.
Following this the risen Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples (Luke 24.36-49,
John 20.19-23). Thomas was absent, but present a week later when he appeared again
to them in Jerusalem at the end of the Passover week (John 20.24-29). After this
he appeared to them in Galilee.
5. How many times did Jesus appear after the resurrection?
Asher Norman says that this is another contradiction. His answer is:
Four (John), three (Mark), two (Luke), two (Matthew), six (1 Corinthians 15).
Putting all the appearances of the risen Jesus together we can actually say that
there were at least ten appearances of Jesus after the resurrection:
Mary Magdalene saw Him on the morning of the Resurrection Day (Mark 16.9, John 20.14-18).
Several other women saw Him a short while later (Matthew 28.9-10).
In the afternoon, He appeared to Peter (Luke 24.34, 1 Corinthians 15.5).
Two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Him later that afternoon (Mark 16.12-13,
In the evening of the same day, He came to the remaining disciples (excepting Judas
who had hung himself and Thomas who was absent) as they met in the Upper Room (Mark
16.14, Luke 24.36-48, John 20.19-23, 1 Corinthians 15.5). Luke 24.33 implies there
were more people than members of the original disciples present on this occasion.
He came again to the disciples including Thomas eight days later (John 20.26-30).
After His disciples returned to Galilee, seven of them met Him on the shore of the
sea (John 21.1-22).
He appeared on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28.16-17). This may have been the
occasion of the appearance to ‘over five hundred brethren at once’ (1 Corinthians
Sometime in the next few weeks, He appeared to His brother James (1 Corinthians 15.7).
Six weeks after the Resurrection, at the time of His ascension to heaven, He was
seen by approximately 120 people, including the disciples. He met them in Jerusalem
and led them out along the road to Bethany until, as they were crossing the Mount
of Olives, they came within sight of the town. Then, after admonishing them to evangelise
the whole world, He ascended into heaven (Matthew 28.18-20, Mark 16.15-19, Luke 24.49-53,
Acts 1.4-15, 1 Corinthians 15.7).
There is no contradiction here. It is simply that different events are featured in
the different Gospels. Paul summarises the events in 1 Corinthians 15 adding some
details not found in the Gospels. He tells us that there was an appearance to more
than five hundred followers of Jesus (most likely in Galilee) and that He appeared
to His brother James. Paul was acquainted with James (Acts 15) and no doubt James
gave this information to Paul.
Asher Norman says this is another inconsistency because Paul says Peter was the first
to see Jesus, whereas the Gospels speak of the women seeing Jesus first. Paul gives
a list of encounters which excludes the witness of the women. In this passage he
is giving a kind of legal statement citing witness to the resurrection. As women
were not able to testify in a legal court at the time, Paul does not mention their
encounters with the risen Jesus.
6. How many disciples?
Asher Norman says the Gospels are inconsistent on the question of how many disciples
were present when the risen Jesus appeared to them: Eleven (Matthew 28.16, Mark
16.14, Luke 24.33) or ten (John 20.24) or twelve (1 Corinthians 15.5).
This objection revolves around the suicide of Judas before the resurrection (Matthew
27.5, Acts 1.18) and the non appearance of Thomas at the fist resurrection appearance
to the assembled disciples (John 20.24).
The term ‘the twelve’ used by Paul is a loose term in the New Testament for the disciples.
It does not necessarily mean exactly twelve people were present at each time it
is used. In Acts 1.22 a replacement for Judas is chosen and the qualification required
is that he should have been a witness of the resurrection. This means that both
Matthias and Barsabbas (the two people mentioned in this verse) must have been present
at one of the resurrection appearances. Luke 24.33 speaks of ‘the eleven’ and ‘those
with them’ implying more than just the disciples being present. Thomas was present
at the second appearance of the risen Jesus to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem,
so there is not really an issue here.
7. Did the angels say Jesus would appear in Galilee?
Asher Norman says that Jesus’ post resurrection appearances take place in Jerusalem
according to Luke and Galilee according to Matthew, which is an inconsistency. As
we have pointed out in the introduction to this article resurrection appearances
took place in both Jerusalem and Galilee. Matthew and Mark major on the appearances
in Galilee and Luke on the appearances in Jerusalem. John gives appearances in both
Jerusalem and Galilee. No one gospel gives all the information possible on the
subject, so again there is no real contradiction here.
The difficulty is Matthew 28.10: ‘Then Jesus said to them (the women), ‘Do not be
afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.’’ See
also Mark 16.7. These verses may be read to mean that Jesus wanted the disciples
to go immediately to Galilee and that this would be the only place they would see
Him. Luke 24 only describes resurrection appearances in Jerusalem and John 20.26
shows that the disciples remained one week in Jerusalem after the first appearance
of Jesus to them there.
However Matthew and Mark do not necessarily mean that the disciples were to leave
immediately for Galilee. They would have been expected to stay in Jerusalem to observe
the remaining days of the feast of unleavened bread. This was more the announcement
of a thrilling promise than the issuing of a precise command. It implied that the
divine triumph had begun and that Galilee was to be the place where they would re-form
their ranks, calling attention back to Jesus prediction of His resurrection and promise
of victory in Matthew 26:31-32: ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night,
for it is written, I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall
be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’
Luke 24.11 tells us that the women’s words about the resurrection were to the disciples
as ‘idle tales’. One interpretation of this that I have read says that Jesus intended
the disciples to go immediately to Galilee but because of their unbelief they refused
to do so. As a result the resurrection appearances had to begin in Jerusalem. This
was Jesus’ response to His disciples who did not believe right to the end until they
were left with no choice. I am not convinced of this, because there was no way the
disciples could have gone to Galilee in one day, and it would have seemed strange
for Jesus to appear to the women and Cleopas and his companion only on the day of
the Resurrection and not to the disciples. Since the disciples were present in Jerusalem
on the first day of the resurrection it was necessary for the first appearance of
Jesus to them to take place there. Following that they went to Galilee where the
Lord appeared to them. (Matthew 28.16-20; John 21).
John 21:1-25 tells us about Jesus’ third appearance to the disciples as a group,
when He appeared to seven of them by the Lake of Tiberias (Galilee). It is possible
that on this occasion He commanded them to organise a meeting with the 500. The
appearance to more than 500, recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:6, was probably the appearance
recorded in Matthew 28:16-20 in the hills of Galilee (since 500 people would require
such a large, outdoor meeting spot), when Jesus gave the Great Commission.
This was in fulfilment of Jesus’ command to His disciples to go to Galilee. Here,
they reformed their ranks for the awesome task of making the gospel known to the
whole world. It is also possible that the appearance to the 500 was a separate appearance
which occurred at some other time. The statement in Matthew 28:17 that some were
doubtful seems to imply a greater group of disciples than just the inner twelve.
Since this was the first time for the larger group to see Jesus, it is not unreasonable
to believe that some of them would have doubted, while the disciples would have been
confident by now that Jesus had really risen.
8. Inconsistencies with the women’s testimony.
Asher Norman raises a number of issues about the women’s state of mind and actions
following the news that Jesus had risen.
He says Mary Magdalene was either ‘grief stricken’ (John 20.13,15) or ‘joy filled’
(Matthew 28.8-9). The simple explanation of this is that in the timing of events
John 20.13-15 was before her encounter with the risen Jesus and Matthew 28.8-9 was
after. This is why she went from being ‘grief stricken’ to being ‘joy filled.’
Asher Norman’s next objection is that the women ‘kept the news to themselves’ (Mark
16.8) or ‘rushed to inform the disciples’ (Luke 24.9, Matthew 28.8).
Mark 16.8 reads: ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the
tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.’
Luke 24.9 reads: ‘Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the
eleven and to all the rest.’
In Mark’s Gospel we find that expressions of fear and awe at evidence of supernatural
things happening are quite common. For example see Mark 4.40-41 with regard to Jesus
stilling of the storm, Mark 5.15 – the healing of the demoniac, Mark 5.33 – the woman
with the issue of blood and Mark 6.50 – Jesus walking on the water 10.32.
These women had already been through traumatic events over the past three days. Now
they had seen the empty tomb and heard this remarkable news from the angel. Psychologically
it is entirely plausible that they would have been so awestruck that they did not
even talk to each other, or anyone they met, as they hurried on their way. This
does not mean they never said anything to the disciples when they reached them. Mark
16.8 is the immediate reaction of the women to the news, not their long term reaction.
There is a question about the ending of Mark’s Gospel at this point, with many ancient
manuscripts not having verses 9-20 in them. Clearly verse 8 is not a satisfactory
place to end the Gospel and it may be that something happened to prevent Mark finishing
the Gospel, or that the original ending was lost and another editor added verses
9-20, or that Mark himself wrote them. This is something scholars debate about.
My view is that it is most likely that Mark wrote verses 9-20.
Matthew does tell us the sequel, (his account follows a similar pattern to that of
Mark), that as they hurried to tell the disciples Jesus Himself met with them. As
they worshipped Him, He told them to inform His disciples that they were to go to
Galilee where they would see Him (Matthew 28.8-10).
Was Mary Magdalene permitted to touch Jesus after the resurrection? Asher Norman
claims there is a contradiction between Matthew 28.9 and Luke 24.39 where Jesus allows
himself to be touched and John 20.17 where he forbids this. This objection of Asher
Norman is based on the Authorised Version translation of John 20.17: ‘Jesus saith
unto her (Mary Magdalene) ‘Touch me not for I am not yet ascended to my Father.’
The original Greek indicates the discontinuity of an action already begun. Mary’s
instinctive reaction to seeing Jesus resurrected would most likely have been to embrace
Him. He was not giving a command that he should never be touched but giving her
assurance that she need not fear to leave Him at that moment and should not cling
on to him. She should go to the disciples with then news of His resurrection. She
would see Him again because His ascension to the Father was not going to happen straight
away. The New American Standard Bible translates this ‘Jesus said to her, ‘Stop
clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’’
In this case there is no contradiction with Matthew 28.9, Luke 24.39 or John 20.27
where the risen Jesus allows or invites the women and the disciples to touch Him.
9. When did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit?
Asher Norman alleges a discrepancy on this subject. According to John it was on
the first day of the resurrection (John 20.22), but according to Acts on the day
of Pentecost, fifty days later (Acts 1.5, 2.1-4).
Asher Norman’s objection is based on John 20.21-23: ‘So Jesus said to them again,
‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said
this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive
the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are
The background to this issue is the promise Jesus gave to the disciples that after
His resurrection, the Comforter (or the Holy Spirit) will come to them (John 16.7).
He will teach the disciples and bring to remembrance all the things Jesus had taught
them (John 14.26), testify of Jesus (John 15.26) and guide the disciples into all
truth (John 16.13).
In John 20 Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit
and gives them the authority to forgive or retain sins in His name. We can see this
as a foretaste of the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the disciples on the
day of Pentecost. The disciples now believe that Jesus has died and risen from the
dead and are ‘born again’ of the Holy Spirit.
Through faith in Him their sins are forgiven and they have received the Holy Spirit.
Through their faith in Jesus as risen from the dead and receiving the Holy Spirit
they will be able to bring the message whereby others can have their sins forgiven
– through repentance and faith in the Messiah who died and rose again as a sacrifice
for our sins.
Luke 24.46-49 tells us that Jesus explained to them the next phase of their ministry:
‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Messiah / Christ to suffer
and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins
should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are
witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but
tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.’
In Acts 1 (which follows on from the Gospel of Luke) Jesus promised the disciples
that they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit: ‘For John truly baptised with water,
but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ … But you
shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses
to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’’
This means that there was another experience of the Holy Spirit which the disciples
should wait for and would come after Jesus had ascended into heaven. In Acts as
a result of the Holy Spirit coming on the Day of Pentecost (the Jewish Feast of Shavuoth),
the disciples are baptised or filled with the Holy Spirit. They receive supernatural
gifts – speaking in languages they had not learnt, the ability to do miraculous signs
and wonders and to preach the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus with
On this occasion there would have been about 120 people present (Acts 1.15) and this
event caused a stir amongst the people present in Jerusalem. This means they must
have seen something visible happening as a result of which a crowd gathered together.
Peter then explained to this crowd the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
As a result of this we are told that around 3000 people believed the message that
Peter preached and were baptized and added to the fellowship of believers. Acts
The Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples with power and enabled them to do miraculous
signs which caused the message to spread throughout Jerusalem and then into Judea
and Samaria and to the ends of the earth as Jesus had promised.
It is interesting that the gift of the Holy Spirit is seen by believers as the way
God fulfils the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31.31-34. This includes the verse
‘I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their
God, and they shall be My people.’
The feast of Shavuoth (Pentecost) remembers the time when God gave the Torah to the
Jewish people. So at this feast God gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
According to certain rabbinic traditions the giving of the Law at Sinai was associated
with visual elements such as ‘tongues’ ‘fire’ and wind. Philo opines that fire was
transformed into languages that the people could understand. ‘Since God does not
have a mouth, He decided that by a miracle an invisible sound should be produced
in the air, a breath which articulated words which turned the air into fire with
the form of flames. It made a voice resound in such a way that those who were furthest
away could hear it clearly as those who were nearest. A voice resounding from the
midst of the fire which came down from heaven and became articulate in the native
language of the hearers...The day was known as the day of the Assembly’ Philo: De
According to a parallel rabbinic tradition these flames of fire are seen not only
as God’s speech, they also imply that God’s word was divided into different tongues
comprehensible to all nations. Rabbi Johanan (active between AD 90 and 130) said
‘The voice of God divided itself into seventy languages.’ According to this tradition
God first revealed the Torah in seventy languages since seventy if the number of
all the nations in the world (cf Gen.10) Exodus Rabbah 5; 9; 28:6; Midrash on Psalms
Significantly in the Book of Acts the description of the gift of the Holy Spirit
is similar: ‘When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accordin one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty
wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared
to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were
all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit
gave them utterance.’ Acts 2.1-4.
There is then no contradiction between John and Acts. The two passages speak of
different works of the Holy Spirit, firstly in John to seal the disciples in their
faith in Jesus as the Messiah through whose death and resurrection we receive forgiveness
of sins, and secondly in Acts to empower them to take this message into the world.
10. Matthew’s account of the dead rising out of their tombs (Matthew 27.50-53).
Asher Norman says this is a highly unlikely event and should have been reported in
Josephus, Philo, the Talmud and the other Gospels.
In Matthew 27.51-3 we read ‘Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two
from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves
were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and
coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and
appeared to many.’
There is no doubt that this is a difficult passage and many commentators have come
to different conclusions about it. One view is that verses 52-53 are an insertion
into the Gospel by a later editor. In support of this view it is pointed out that
verse 51 flows naturally into verse 54: ‘So when the centurion and those with him,
who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they
feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’
However against this view it has to be said that there are no manuscripts of Matthew
in Greek, Latin or Aramaic that omit these verses and they are referred to in the
writings of early Christians including Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria,
Tertullian, Origen and Eusebius.
The difficulties raised by this passage in Matthew are several:
Why was this event not mentioned in the other Gospels or in the Acts?
What happened to these resurrected saints?
Did they come back to life as Lazarus did when he was raised from the dead?
Did they go back into their graves?
Did they ascend to heaven?
Who did they appear to and why is there no mention of the event of such a sensational
event in other writings of the period?
A possible explanation for this passage is as follows. Matthew records this event
because he was a witness of what happened. From a theological point of view the
New Testament teaches that Jesus overcame the power of death when He died on the
cross (Acts 2:24, Hebrews 2:14). This incident shows that this has happened by
resurrecting those who have died as believers in the past age. It also looks forward
to the future resurrection of all believers.
There certainly seems to be an inference from Ephesians 4.8-10 that the resurrection
of Jesus from the grave and into Heaven was more than just one Man ascending to the
Father. Paul quotes Psalm 68.18 as saying: ‘When [Jesus] ascended on high He led
a host of captives and He gave gifts to men’ explaining the quote by noting that
‘In saying ‘He ascended’ what does it mean but that He had also descended into the
lower parts of the earth? He who descended is He who also ascended far above all
the heavens, that He might fill all things’
In the Tenach the dead are said to go to Sheol which is described as a place located
below man’s existence, at the opposite end of the universe from Heaven, deeper than
anything else known to man. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus alludes to two divisions
of Sheol (given its Greek equivalent Hades in the text). There is a place where
the wicked go and are punished, and a place where the righteous go and await being
taken up to heaven (See Luke 16.19-31). The day would come when God would break
free the saints in the Old Testament from Sheol and take them to Heaven: ‘For you
will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your
right hand are pleasures for evermore.’ (Psalm 16.10-11).
The implication of this is that after He had completed the work of redemption on
the cross, Jesus went immediately to Sheol (the righteous compartment) and opened
it up so that the Old Testament believers could be taken into the presence of God
in Heaven. Some of these saints appeared temporarily in Jerusalem, as a witness
of the resurrection of the dead. We are not told to whom they appeared, how many
there were or any other details and as there is no other record of this event we
can say no more about it.
Jesus is risen from the dead. Because He is risen He is alive today. Because He
is alive today He is able to raise us from spiritual death and separation from God
and bring us into a living relationship with God through which we have new life here
on earth and eternal life in the world to come.
In John 11.21-27 we read of a conversation between Jesus and Martha at the time of
Lazarus’ death, before he was raised from the dead:
‘Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord if You had been here my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha said, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me though
he may die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never
die. Do you believe this?’
She said to Him, ‘Yes Lord, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who
is to come into the world.’
If you believe that Jesus died and rose again from the dead and put your trust in
Him for eternal salvation you will know that you will live eternally in the resurrection
day. Don’t listen to those who want to blind you to this truth and fill your mind
with unbelief and rejection of the only way you can find salvation. Believe on the
Lord Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah and you will be saved. For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish
but have everlasting life. John 3.16.