Contradiction in resurrection accounts (Matthew 28:8 & Mark 16:8)?

How do you reconcile Matthew 28:8 and Mark 16:8? Matthew says the women “departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Mark says “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Quotations taken from ESV.)

I’ve read that the women might have been too afraid to speak at first but a little later told the disciples. However, my impression from Matthew is that they left the tomb with joy and were headed straight to tell the disciples. Does the wording of Matthew require this interpretation? Is it possible they were too afraid to tell anyone until Jesus appeared to them and repeated the angels’ instructions that they should tell His disciples (Matthew 28:9-10)?

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Each of the four gospel writers gives a slightly different version of the events of that morning. Putting a detailed timeline to that day might clear up most apparent discrepancies, but may raise additional questions. Matthew and John were directly part of that story, as disciples. Mark and Luke were not. They got their information from others, both the disciples whom they knew personally, and probably also from the women.

Each of the authors had slightly different aims, and audiences, in mind when they wrote their narratives. Different details would have been included or excluded from the stories. Put yourself in their context: writing a gospel at the time was no doubt a much more time consuming exercise than writing a history of the same length today … it was all done by hand, with no word processing capabilities of editing, spell checking, moving paragraphs around here and there, sending early editions out to be checked by people quoted, etc. Quite possibly the documents were dictated to a scribe. I note this not to downplay the discrepancies, but rather to try to “get into” the processes that the authors dealt with. None of them tried to provide a “full and detailed” report. None of them were writing “reports” at all - rather they were telling the narrative of Jesus life and work.

So you mention that Mark 16: 8 says the women said nothing. However, if you read a little further (vs 10) you will notice that Mary did go and tell the disciples. There are other “discrepancies” that you could also find: Mark says that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first; Matthew says that when the women were running to the disciples, Jesus met them and they worshipped him. Perhaps both are correct.

Maybe there were more to-ings and fro-ings involved than any of the authors provide. Perhaps the three women went to the tomb together, but after seeing what had happened, they split up, with two running off immediately, while Mary Magdalene waited, looking in the tomb again, was told Jesus was raised, still doubted and asked the “gardner” if he knew where “they” had taken the body. Upon which Jesus said “Mary!” and so on. Perhaps He also met the other two on their way.

John mentions only Mary Magdalene. She got all the way back to Peter and told him that the stone was taken away, the body gone, and she didn’t know where they had moved the body to. Perhaps she went three times, once alone, the second time with the other Mary and Salome, the third time with Peter and John, after which she met the gardener, as related in John. And ran back to the disciples again, with the news that she had met Jesus.

Maybe all these details were not the main point that any of the writers wanted to include, because they would detract from the main point they were making. Ultimately, for those who are concerned about the differences, the question would be … so what? or rather … do any of these (to us) discrepancies in any way alter the fact of the resurrection? One could say, rather, it reinforces it - it illustrates very clearly (at least in my mind) how bewildered and shaken they all were that day. It was incredibly hard, in spite of all the evidence, to believe that Jesus had actually come back to life! Who could believe it? As my Dad would say “It was unbelievable, if true!” :wink: Would you have believed it? I certainly wouldn’t. Peter and John obviously didn’t; Thomas explicitly didn’t even when all the others told him of several meetings. The couple on the road to Emmaus were totally confused and bewildered by all the rumours they had heard. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen!

And yet it did. Our (MY) problem today is that I have been told about it from childhood, and it is just “old hat” and it’s only when I think about how the accounts so well portray (in the fewest possible words) the total shock that Jesus’ resurrection caused, that it begins to sink in … as very very true. This was not a story made up years later - if all the 4 gospels were in perfect agreement, that would more likely make me think there was careful collusion in spreading a perfectly consistent story.

(Ironically, the people who took it most seriously, were the guards, and the chief priests, who immediately set in motion a plan, first to buy the silence of the guards, and secondly to spread false allegations of the disciples’ making up stories! When you see how the disciples reacted - the high priests’ propaganda simply wouldn’t ring true.)

Don’t know if that helps.

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I wonder how I would feel in their situation. Probably freaked out! My heart would be pounding so hard others would be able to hear it. I’d be scared out of my wits at the same time as the news itself would be exhilerating! “I’ve just been in someone’s tomb looking for a body that wasn’t there - though the burial linens were, and there were two bright shining guys sitting there and telling me the dead guy I was looking for has gone on a trip to Galilee - please tell his followers to go there and meet him! - he’s alive and waiting for them to come.” Wouldn’t that frighten you!! How are you going to tell this to your friends without them thinking you’ve lots more than a few screws loose? Off your head! You are altogether too upset, to have got things right! etc etc.

I think the writers are doing an amazing job of describing what actually happened, but doing so in as few words as possible, while getting the message across.

Thanks for asking the questions - trying to answer them has been an awesome experience for me! Wow! Even if my answers aren’t right.

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I would take the statement in Mark 16:8 about them not speaking to any man to mean that they didn’t pause to speak to anyone on their way to reach the disciples - they were anxious to get the news to the twelve first - which is exactly what the angel had just told them to do in the previous verse.

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On Mark and Matthew not experiencing the resurrection events directly: I believe that there is evidence that Mark did experience these events.
Generally it is understood that Mark is the same John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12, who went on Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey Acts 12:25 (The Coptic Church holds to this understanding)
Additionally Mark 14:51 makes mention of a young man. Many believe this young man is Mark the Gospel writer as it was a vehicle of writing for the author of a writing not mention themselves by name but by a reference that others would know. We see this in John 21:20 where John references himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Just a side note and not meant to take away from your excellent response.
Dan

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Point taken, Dan.
I was taught even as a child that John Mark and Mark of the gospel were the same person. And logically I can believe that the young man in Mark 14:51 could be Mark, in the same way as I can accept that John was probably refering to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John does this a number of times. Do you recall anywhere else that “Mark” makes such a hint of his own presence?

I don’t want to make an issue of it. If Mark the writer, was the young man in Mark 14:51; it raises a number of questions about who all were with Jesus at his “last supper;” was it just the 12 that went with Jesus to the mount of Olives; when the gospel talk about Jesus teaching his disciples, how often should we understand it to mean the 12, and how often does it refer to a much larger number of individuals (I think for example when Jesus sent out the 70 or 72 to preach in rural communities, or the 120 gathered in the upper room on pentecost).

This is a bit off-topic in this thread, but it would be interesting to look closer, because so many of us (myself definitely) have unconscious and quite possibly erroneous assumptions when we approach the scriptures - just as the mainstream Jews, including the disciples themselves, had about their scriptures’ meanings. And about reality - like a deep-rooted assumption/understanding that people simply don’t arise from the dead three days after being crucified.

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I wonder if this so-called discrepancies was of any problem to the people of that era in the original language. Just to put things into perspective, would a Greek or Hebrew in the first century find this discrepancies a problem? Anyway, this is a normality with us human when we witness a phenomena of such magnitude. People get stuttered, speechless etc for a brief moment before they get their sense back. May be the writers were using the phrase to describe the reaction of the women, or the writers probably meant what he wrote - that they were silent at first and then burst into joy as they ran back to tell the apostles.

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Hello Everyone,

In my spiritual novice walk, I have come to realize that there are NO contradictions in the bible. The inerrancy of scripture has been under attack since the beginning. The bible says what it says and means what it means whether we were born or not. If we have trouble with the meaning of a passage its because we have not studied it in depth to understand the meaning that God was trying to tell us. There is only 1 meaning to what God is trying to tell us when he speaks to us through his word. But countless churches have been divided and denominations have have been born by manipulating or misinterpreting Gods word to say what is doesn’t say and to mean what it doesn’t mean. A good resource for those who need to try to answer the “contradictions” dilemma, is the knowledgable believers that participate in this wonderful forum, a book by Norman Geisler called “Big Book of Bible Difficulties” and the ultimate source, the bible itself. As questions came up for me during my walk, i realized again and again that it was not the error or contradiction that was in question but my novice misinterpretation of the text. The holy spirit will unfold Gods truth over time as we read his word. I have found it is better to trust fully in God and his word and not let the misinformation sidetrack us and get us looking at what the world wants us to look at. I believe Ravi and many others (R C Sproll, John Macarthur, ect…) have covered this topic to the point that clearly shows Gods word is perfect, without error, and all we need to live in this scary, dangerous but beautiful world until God calls us. I hope you all stay safe and be well.

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Wow! Thanks, everyone, for taking time to help me with this. I love getting many different perspectives.

@Ilovejesus1, you touched on the center of my question. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I don’t want to settle for just saying the gospels read like eye witness accounts, so we have good evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. I want to be able to support my conviction that God tells the truth, which means there aren’t any real contradictions in Scripture. As you said, “If we have trouble with the meaning of a passage, it’s because we have not studied it in depth to understand the meaning that God was trying to tell us.”

@Mohembo, I like the way you stated that “maybe there were more to-ings and fro-ings involved than any of the authors provide.” Since the gospel authors didn’t try to give every detail, many things seem to be contradictions when they aren’t.

@jlyons, your thought that they didn’t speak to anyone on their way to reach the disciples is one of my leading theories. I’m also curious about whether there’s something in the original Greek that gets lost in translation like @Joh2019 suggested. What if “they said nothing to anyone” really is similar to our phrase “they were speechless”?

It’s still not a passage I would want my agnostic friends to ask me about because I fear they would think I’m twisting the verses to make them fit together, but I’ll keep doing what @Ilovejesus1 suggested and study deeper. I can’t lose when I’m studying God’s Word. :slight_smile:

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson Regarding your agnostic friends, why fear their question? If they say that these passages contradict each other, then they bear the burden of proof because they have made the assertion. It is said that one should never say never because there is always an exception. They are essentially saying that there is no possible explanation for the apparent discrepancies. Make them prove it!

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Thats a great point Brendan,

I truly believe in the doctrine of election principal as stated in Ephesians1: 4-5, Romans 8: 28-30, 2 Timothy 1: 9. Although we are asked to preach the word (Mark 16:15, Acts 8:4) Its up to the holy spirit to enter the hearts and convict them and turn them to God. (Romans 10:13-17)

The burden is on the the individual posing the question. For me, i am careful not to allow unbelievers to stall my walk. I love them and share Gods word, but its not up to me to convince them. Thats when the Holy Spirit comes in. All we can do is direct them towards the right sources. The bible and salvation is a big deal. I would want to see and understand my question in Gods word if it were me posing the question. Not just hearing it from someone else. If someone is interested in walking down that apologetic path, than reputable online courses and seminary colleges are the way to go. Apologetics is a specialized area better left to the most learned Evangelical Cristians. Remember , God is in control…Proverbs 16:19, 16:33, 19: 21, 20:24, Jeremiah 10:23

I hope i have said his in the right way as not to mislead anyone.

God Bless

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@Ilovejesus1 You make valid points. I think that we may differ about leaving apologetics to the experts, if I understand you correctly. We need to be prepared to defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15); therefore, it behooves each of us to devote time not only to reading the Scriptures for ourselves but also listening to the experts and growing in our ability to defend our own faith.

You make me think of an experience I had once. I had taken a course in how to deal with false cults and religions. All the verses to use in challening their views and defending the truth as presented in the “whole” Bible.

With this knowledge firm in my head, I went out to evangelise with a young man who hadn’t even graduated from high school, hadn’t had the opportunity to read the whole Bible because it hadn’t yet been translated into his language. But he truly and deeply loved the Lord Jesus.

One day we met a member of the Jehovah’s Witness. We entered into a discussion. He had been very well trained to follow a certain presentation process, using a specific verses of scripture. I countered with my full armoury of learned counter arguments and supporting scriptures. It became obvious that neither of us was “winning” - the (polite) argument just continued. My young (“uneducated”) friend finally broke in, very humbly and simply, with a question, something like “but do you believe in the Lord Jesus as your personal Saviour, do you know and love him?”

That simple, straightforward approach, spoken softly in a tone that showed the genuineness of just how much he himself knew and loved Jesus personally, totally silenced the JWitness. He had no further arguments, no further defence, nothing to answer (he didn’t want to say no, couldn’t say yes, so he remained silent).

So did I. It was a basic lesson that sometimes head knowledge will make no headway, but heart knowledge will make a powerful impact. This is not to denigrade the value and use of apologetics, just to show that it doesn’t always meet the need or hit the mark. The Holy Spirit can and will use whatever He finds most appropriate in the heart of the one we’re speaking with.

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@Mohembo I love your testimony because it perfectly illustrates 1 Corinthians 13. Your friend hit the spot by warmly and lovingly expressing his childlike faith. Thank you for sharing it!

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@blbossard, you’re right that I need to remember to shift the burden of proof to my friends more often. I wonder, though, what level of proof I should expect. Abdu Murray mentioned a few different levels of evidence in the Pilot Episode of the Defense Rests:

  • Preponderance of the evidence
  • Clear and convincing evidence
  • Evidence beyond a reasonable doubt

I don’t fully understand these, but I need to think more about what level of evidence to request from my friends. If I ask them to prove that there is no possible explanation for apparent discrepancies, they might get frustrated, and they might expect the same level of evidence from me whenever I make statements. It would be fun to discuss this at Episode 1- Understanding Burdens of Proof.

But my agnostic friends are not the reason I asked this question. I was preparing for our ladies Bible study at church last week. I hoped to compare the various resurrection accounts, but I realized there were differences between them that I couldn’t explain, and I didn’t want to create unnecessary doubts for the ladies, so I took a different approach in studying the resurrection. However, I wanted to find answers for myself.

Sometimes as I look for answers, I view the options through the eyes of a good friend of mine who is agnostic. That helps me to be honest about the evidence rather than twisting it to make it say what I want it to say. But I wasn’t actually asking the question for her. I was asking for me.

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson Ah-HAH! That is the cause of the distress! :slightly_smiling_face: I appreciate your situation. I have taught Bible studies and classes, too; I appreciate the feeling that you are sharing. I am sorry that I missed your point!

I do not wish unnecessarily to belabor anything. You have been processing some good ideas from other posts on this thread. It sounds like you have already passed your situation with the Bible study, so I will not try to add to the proliferation unless you feel you can use it. God bless you on your journey!

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@blbossard, don’t apologize for missing my point. I hadn’t even hinted at the real reason I asked the question. If you have further thoughts on how these verses fit together, feel free to share because I’m still pondering them.

I realized I might have a wrong picture of Jerusalem that Sunday morning. I pictured the women hurrying down a deserted path as they left the tomb. If they were walking through a busy city, full of people rushing to work after the Sabbath, Mark 16:8 makes more sense. I understand mentioning that “they said nothing to anyone” if they passed many people along the way.

So let me know if there are any other details I might have missed. Blessings!

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson, it is great to see your desire to study and be able to teach accurately. It can be difficult, especially with the arguments coming at Christians from many different directions.
Regarding the resurrection accounts, may I recommend a good book? It is “Easter Enigma”, by John Wenham. In it, he presents a compelling case that addresses the supposed contradictions between the Gospel accounts.
By the way, the book is on the Core Module’s recommended reading list for week 8.
God bless all here

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