These ten verses of Matthew—and the matching verses of the other three Gospels—are the single most important of the whole New Testament. If Jesus was dead on Friday and alive on Sunday, everything else in the Bible is Truth.
The question is: did Jesus defeat death? All four Gospels agree: YES!
Why are there so many differences between the Gospels on the smaller points, and what does that say about the truth of the writings?
Consider first that Matthew names Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; Mark names Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome; Luke simply says, ‘The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee’; and John says only Mary Magdalene.
They agree that women were the first to see the empty tomb, but they disagree on who they were and whether any of them saw Jesus at that time.
Matthew alone describes a powerful scene witnessed by the two Marys while Mark, Luke, and John have the empty tomb waiting quietly. Mark has the three women enter the tomb to see a ‘young man’ ‘dressed in a white robe’ who tells them Jesus is alive. Luke writes; but on going inside, the body of the Lord Jesus was not to be found. While they were still puzzling over this, two men suddenly stood at their elbow, dressed in dazzling light. The women were terribly frightened, and turned their eyes away and looked at the ground. Phillips John writes that Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away, and she ran. After telling Peter and others, Mary meets Jesus but mistakes him for a gardener.
Remember that Jesus’ followers had at least thirty years to talk about this all-important event before the first Gospel was written. You would think they would have ironed out their differences by then.
But no. We are left with this jumble.
Consider this, however: before the women found the men, Matthew 28:9-10—But quite suddenly, Jesus stood before them in their path, and said, “Peace be with you!” And they went forward to meet him and, clasping his feet, worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go now and tell my brothers to go into Galilee and they shall see me there.” Phillips
Mark 16:1-9-11—When Jesus rose early on that first day of the week, he appeared first of all to Mary of Magdala, from whom he had driven out seven evil spirits. And she went and reported this to his sorrowing and weeping followers. They heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him, but they did not believe it. Phillips Do note that the oldest manuscripts of Matthew do not include verses 9-20 of this chapter.
Luke 24:10-11—It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. NIV
John 20:14-18—Then she turned and noticed Jesus standing there, without realising that it was Jesus. “Why are you crying?” said Jesus to her. “Who are you looking for?” She, supposing that he was the gardener, said, “Oh, sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you have put him and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” At this she turned right round and said to him, in Hebrew, “Master!” “No!” said Jesus, “do not hold me now. I have not yet gone up to the Father. Go and tell my brothers that I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And Mary of Magdala went off to the disciples, with the news, “I have seen the Lord!”, and she told them what he had said to her. Phillips
These four passages are treasured because they show the importance of women in this story, indeed, in the whole of scripture.
There is much more to the Easter story we could look at, but let’s stop here and consider what the jumble of details means.
All Gospels record women going to the tomb and seeing Jesus. On that, there is no disagreement. All Gospels record Mary of Magdala as one of the women and generally give her top billing. We can only guess about the ‘other Mary,’ but I doubt that it is the mother of Jesus. Had she been there, she would have received the special treatment she deserved.
We must always remember that anything written in the First Century faced many limitations, most importantly, the fact that few people could read and write; people had no way to ‘take notes’; there was no journaling or diary keeping; if it was essential people remembered it. Mark spoke to several people three decades later and asked them what they remembered. (What do you remember about the First Gulf War three decades ago?) He remembered what they told him, and he either wrote or—more likely—dictated what we know as the Gospel of Mark. Matthew and Luke spoke to different people and received somewhat different versions of the story.
None of them had access to the internet. Their internet was the people who had been there or had heard from those who had been there. Thirty years later, some of the witnesses were dead.
Any time people attack the Bible, we must always drop back to our base: Faith. I cannot prove any of the words in today’s readings are true. I believe them to be true. So it is truth.
Be righteous and do good.