11 More Resurrection ‘Contradictions’ That Aren’t Really Contradictions

Why was the stone rolled away if Jesus could enter locked rooms? And how could Joseph of Arimathea buy a linen cloth if all the shops were closed for Passover?

Eugène Burnand, “Peter and John Run to the Empty Tomb,” 1898
Eugène Burnand, “Peter and John Run to the Empty Tomb,” 1898 (photo: Public Domain)

I continue my effort, started in a previous column (with 12 examples), of analyzing attempts to poke holes in many aspects of the stories of Jesus’ Resurrection, as presented in all four Gospels.

1. St. Paul doesn’t mention an “empty tomb.” Acts 13:29-31 says “they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared…”

Paul mentions a “tomb” in 13:29, then says Jesus was “raised ... from the dead.” That’s an “empty tomb” is it not? Jesus wasn’t there anymore, and “for many days he appeared” (13:31). Inexorable conclusion: empty tomb!

2. In Matthew and Mark the women are instructed to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Unless the texts say something like “this is the only time they saw the risen Jesus” (and they don’t) no contradiction is established.

3. Matthew’s only mention of the disciples’ sighting of Jesus is on a mountain in Galilee. This is an absolutely classic and “textbook” example of the misguided methodology of Bible-bashers — seeing “contradictions” under every rock. Nothing in the text of Matthew even remotely hints at this being the “only” sighting of Jesus.” That’s simply a groundless extrapolation.

4. In Mark 16:8 frightened women flee the tomb and tell nobody what they saw. Atheists often accept the belief (also held by many liberal and some conservative Bible scholars) that Mark ends at 16:8 (verses 9-20 being non-canonical). Leaving aside that complex discussion, even if one accepts the shorter version of Mark 16, the last clause of 16:8 gives no indication of how long they “said nothing.” It may not have been very long at all. We can only guess or speculate. “Said nothing” with no indication of how long the silence was, is not the same thing as saying that they never mentioned it to anyone, ever (which scenario would, of course, contradict the other Gospels).

5. How did the women seeking to anoint Jesus expect to access his body with the stone in position? A satisfactory solution to this is as easy as positing that they expected to meet someone else along the way who could help move the stone. It’s certainly not an inexorable difficulty. For all we know, there could have been men that accompanied them but weren’t mentioned in the text.

6. How could the women expect to persuade the Roman guards to let them anoint Jesus’ body? This presupposes that the women knew there was a guard. They had observed Jesus being placed in the tomb on Friday (Mark 15:46-47; Matthew 27:57-61), but the guard was not posted till Saturday, the “next day” (Matthew 27:62).

7. Why was the stone rolled away if Jesus could enter locked rooms? It wasn’t rolled away so Jesus could “get out,” but rather, to be a graphic visual demonstration that he rose from the dead.

8. If Mary Magdalene’s first visit to the tomb (noted in John) was earlier than the one described in Matthew, how come she didn’t encounter any guards? Because, as John 20:1 states, she “saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” An angel had already removed the stone and as a result, “the guards trembled and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4). Presumably they also fled as a result (likely for fear of their lives, for the penalty for not properly guarding something was death in Roman law). Therefore, Mary didn’t see them. The earthquake described in Matthew had occurred earlier in time. That’s an involved discussion having to do with the very different Hebrew conception of time and chronology, that I have dealt with in a blog paper.

9. Who witnessed the appointment of guards securing the tomb? Simply because we can’t determine either thing from the texts alone, doesn’t mean or logically follow that there were none, or that this person or persons could not have communicated it to Matthew. Matthew may have also received it by direct revelation from God (under the Christian view that the Bible is inspired writing and God’s revelation to mankind). In any event, this is not a “contradiction” — only an unknown (two different things), and certainly plausible hypotheses exist.

10. Paul refers to Jesus appearing to “the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 5:5) but Judas Iscariot was dead, so only 11 Apostles remained. “The Twelve” was a title applied to the original group of Apostles and as such need not always have been the literal number. Sometimes we use numbers in this fashion today: such as the Big Ten conference in college football (which originally had ten teams, but now has 14). We use the term “two-by-four” for a common piece of lumber, which is literally 1 5/8 by 3 5/8 inches.

Biblical use of “the Twelve” as a designation for the original disciples is strongly indicated in many Gospel passages (e.g., Matthew 26:14; Mark 6:7; 14:17; Luke 18:31). Jesus Himself did this: “Did I not choose you, the twelve . . .?” (John 6:70). John refers to “Thomas, one of the twelve” after Judas departed, and before he was replaced by Matthias (John 20:24). Paul simply continues the same practice. It was also used because “twelve” was an important number in biblical thinking (40 and 70 are two other such numbers). For a plain and undeniable example of this, see Revelation 21:12, 14, 21.

11. Mark describes Joseph of Arimathea buying a linen burial cloth. How could he do so if all the shops were closed for Passover? In fact, Jewish Law allowed for certain things on the Sabbath and feast days. Mishnah Shabbath 23.4 permitted a Jew “to furnish what is necessary for a bride and for a corpse, and to bring a coffin and shrouds for the latter.” As so often, more knowledge of the culture clears up “difficulties.”