Why Are the Bible’s Easter Accounts Different?

How can we defend the historical authenticity of the Gospels in light of discrepancies in how they report the Resurrection?

Anyone who has read the Gospels in a more than cursory manner has come across what appear to be contradictions among them as they report the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. This is no less true when we consider how they describe the most important event of all: the resurrection of Christ. If this event is not historical, says St. Paul, “our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Speaking of Paul: before we consider apparent contradictions in the Gospels’ Easter accounts, we must remember that the Gospels are not our earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Those would be the letters of Paul. Even if the Gospels had never been composed, there would still be plausible literary testimony of the event, evidence with which a skeptic must deal. 1 Corinthians 15, which discusses the Resurrection, was written as early as A.D. 53, most likely prior to the publishing of at least some of the Gospels. What’s more, this chapter contains an even earlier ancient “creed” of sorts, crystallizing Easter faith in just a few lines (1 Cor. 15:3-7).

Even though the Gospels are not our earliest or only written sources on Easter, discrepancies in how they report resurrection phenomena have caused many to call into question their historical authenticity.

In Mark, which the majority of biblical scholars contend was the first Gospel composed, when the female disciples of Jesus arrive at the tomb early on Easter Sunday, the stone has already been rolled away. A “young man” in dazzling raiment (in all likelihood an angel) is inside the tomb. In Luke’s account, two men are inside. Matthew’s account has Mary Magdalene and another Mary arriving at a still sealed tomb, but an earthquake suddenly occurs, whereupon an angel descends and rolls back the heavy stone. Three Gospels, and seemingly three different accounts.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us slightly different lists in their Easter accounts of exactly which women were present. Mark has these women respond in fear and states that they said nothing about this to anyone. In Matthew’s account, the two women meet Jesus on their way to inform the disciples of the Easter news. Luke does not say they ran into Jesus, but rather that they immediately told the disciples, who didn’t buy their story. Same Gospels, and again, the accounts seem to differ.

So why the differences?

As much as we might want the Gospels to conform to our modern conventions of history-writing, they don’t read like modern police reports. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain reliable accounts. In fact, they are perfectly consonant with how the ancients recorded history. The key is to understand the literary conventions of the time, which was  the mid-first century A.D. ,  and how the Gospels fit that mold.

Scholars like Michael Licona have noted that the genre of ancient literature that the Gospels most closely resemble is that of Greco-Roman biography. In reporting the speeches and activities of famous figures, writers utilized techniques in recording history that were perfectly acceptable at the time, such as compression (truncating longer speeches for the sake of brevity). The Gospel writers did this as well: they report that Jesus held crowds spellbound for hours with his preaching, yet his recorded sermons can be read in minutes.

Also, events were moved around in a narrative for thematic reasons. For example, did Jesus “cleanse” the temple at the beginning of his public ministry (John 2:13-22) or toward the end, as in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? Or did he do it twice? In all likelihood, Jesus’ action at the temple occurred toward the end of his life, enraging the authorities and precipitating his arrest, but John places it at the beginning of his Gospel for symbolic reasons.

We also need to consider the way students (disciples) were taught in the Jewish tradition. Theirs was a culture of memorization. Scholar Craig Keener reports that students in Jesus’ day were capable of memorizing prodigious amounts of speeches and sacred texts. Even so, Jesus’ disciples were not expected to “parrot” his teachings, repeating them verbatim. In fact, if they had, they would have been considered poor students. Jesus himself probably gave different versions of the same basic “talk” as he preached in various settings. One example could be the similarities between the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:17-49.

Having a proper understanding of Jesus’ message was the key, which was proven by an ability to accurately re-present the essence—or the “gist”—of Jesus’ teachings in a way that would be relevant to the audience and its particular needs. The one thing disciples were most assuredly not allowed to do was to invent sayings or deeds of Jesus.

Now let’s apply all of this to the synoptic Gospel accounts of the first Easter. Even though there is variance in secondary details (how many angels were at the tomb, for example), the basic message is the same: Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty of him early on Sunday morning, and the resurrected Christ later appeared to various disciples over a period of time.

What might be some reasons for these varying secondary details?

Ironically, the fact that these accounts are not in verbatim agreement actually enhances the probability that they are historical. Each evangelist is making use of different sources of eyewitness testimony when composing his Gospel. The evangelists didn’t “cut and paste” prefabricated Easter accounts into their respective Gospels.

There are also literary or thematic reasons for the differences. In Mark’s Gospel, as noted above, the women react fearfully. Fear—even terror—in the presence of the divine is a constant Markan motif. When it comes to describing the most stupendous of all miracles—Jesus’ resurrection—Mark’s not about to change his style.

What of the variances in the lists of women who may or may not have been present? It’s reasonable that they all were present but that each evangelist is highlighting the names of those who may have been personally known or particularly important to his readers. The fact that some women were the first to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Jesus is what’s important here —and this is not something that the Gospel writers would have been eager to admit were it not the case.

The testimony of women in the first-century Jewish world was not considered reliable in a court of law. If the goal at this time was to convince readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and the writer made up a story about his being raised from the dead, that writer certainly wouldn’t present women as the first to discover the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus —unless that’s what actually happened, as embarrassing as this might be in that particular cultural context.

All in all, when the Gospels are held up to the standards of first-century Greco-Roman historical writing, and to the standards of Jewish transmission of rabbinical teaching common to the period, they hold up quite well indeed. This is no less true when one considers their accounts of the (literally) earth-shaking events of the first Easter.

Ignatian Daily Examen: A Sure Bridge to Holiness

Saint Ignatius of Loyola insisted on never neglecting the Daily Examen. For no reason whatsoever would this great saint justify skipping over and neglecting this all-important prayer. Starting now, why not make a proposal to make your own personal Daily Examen. If done, the fruits are countless and the blessings copious from such a tool, an indispensable tool to erect a solid structure for a life of authentic holiness.

In this brief essay we will highlight and briefly explain the five classical steps of making the Daily Examen. Then, as a means for motivation, we will highlight some of the blessings that will descend upon you in your spiritual life.

If you read through essays, writings, articles and even books on this topic, the order and words vary, but the concept never changes. The key element is that the Daily Examen should be proposed by all those with good will and put into practice.

The Five Classical Steps for the Ignatian Daily Examen:

1. Recall the Presence of God

All authentic prayer starts with calling to mind the all-abiding Presence of God. We are never far from God, and God is never far from us! Saint Paul, quoting the Greek poet, expresses it as such: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Therefore, start your Daily Examen by gently calling to mind the all-abiding, all-permeating presence of God. God is present in all times, all places, all circumstances, and all events. Even when our life seems to be a dark night of the soul, God is as present as the sun shining at midday! Add to this that our God is a loving Father who always desires what is best for His children. Therefore, we should respond with trust, confidence, and love.

2. Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good; His Love Endures Forever (Ps 136:1) 

Saint Ignatius insists on the importance of gratitude. We should all cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Saint Ignatius states that the very essence of sin is ingratitude—a lack of rendering to God a heartfelt thanks! In all humility, every gift that we have in our life—intellectual, athletic, artistic, spiritual, supernatural, etc.—all are gifts from the Father of all gifts. Therefore, rewind the film of your life since your last Daily Examen to see what you have been gifted with and allow your heart to expand in an overflowing act of thanksgiving. In a word, all that we have (except our sins—those we willfully chose and God allowed) are gratuitous gifts from our all-bountiful Heavenly Father. Indeed, God loves a grateful heart and He is ready and willing to shower thankful hearts with more and more blessings! How much Jesus suffered when after healing ten lepers, only one came back to pay Him thanks!

3. Beg God to Send the Holy Spirit to See Yourself as God Sees You

In your Daily Examen beg for the Gift of Gifts, the Holy Spirit to shed light on your intellect, to help you rewind your past block of time—your past day to see the totality of how you lived that day. Humility is truth, and you want to beg in all honestly to see what you have done in the past day, but even beyond your exterior actions, you want to beg for the grace to see your interior intentions. We should never forget that man sees the surface, the mere exterior, but God can read our hearts and even our most hidden intentions.

4. Gratitude and Repentance

During the Examen, as pointed out above, most likely you will become aware of God’s incredible goodness and His many gifts to you in the past day; give thanks again to God for His blessings. However, in all sincerity and truth the Holy Spirit will also point out some of your thoughts, words and actions, and even some intentions, that were off the mark and not pleasing to God. Only God is perfect and the Bible teaches us that the just man falls seven times a day. Be aware of these moral failures and beg for forgiveness.

5. Resolution, Reconciliation, and Renewal

The last step points to the future. With a keen awareness of God’s infinite love for us and His infinite goodness in giving us so much, but also aware of our own human weakness, we propose to love God more every day starting right now, and to avoid any person, place, thing or circumstance that can lead us off the path of true discipleship of the Lord. In other words, the Daily Examen heightens our awareness and self-knowledge and this can serve as preventive medicine. If we know where the pitfall is in our path, we can sidestep it, jump over it, or walk a different path. The desert Fathers insist on this two-word axiom: know thyself.

Now the benefits of practicing the Daily Examen, which are incalculable. We will mention only three:

1. Constant Awareness of God and Prayer

If the Daily Examen is done faithfully, that is to say, on a daily basis, with hard work and good will, we become even more aware of God’s loving presence in our lives. God is not some distant, ethereal, mythical figure of the past! In our daily Examen, He becomes all the more real to us. In truth, we are never alone! God became man, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for our sins, and rise to eternal life. It is to this life that He calls us. If you like, He will become your Best Friend, always at your side. He wants you to share every moment of your existence with Him. By doing this, we will sin less. Saint Teresa of Avila asserts that one of the primary reasons for sin is becoming oblivious to the all abiding Presence of God.

2. Avoid Pitfalls

With a more acute awareness of the intentions and movements of our heart, which is like a garden that has both beautiful flowers and ugly weeds, we can avoid giving in to our bad tendencies. When the bad spirit is knocking at the door of our heart, we must close the door with lock and key. Many sins are committed due to weakness of the will, but also due to ignorance of who is knocking at our door. The Daily Examen heightens our awareness of the tactics of the enemy, as well as self-knowledge of our weaknesses, two key components for growth in holiness!

3. Compassion Toward Others

The Daily Examen is like shining a floodlight on our heart, our soul, and the inner workings of our conscience. We become aware of how good and loving God really is. However, with a penetrating awareness, we become cognizant of how weak we really are at times, and how prone to slip and fall into the mire of our own sinfulness. This keen self-knowledge can help us to be more kind, patient, and compassionate with our struggling brothers and sisters. If God is patient with us, how much more must we be patient with others! God allows what is evil to bring greater good from the evil – charity being the greatest good of all.

To conclude, determine now to make the daily Examen Prayer. It shouldn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes. If you miss a day, begin again, start back up the very next day. In doing so, you will sin less, your friendship with Christ will grow, and you will find more peace and joy in your life.

Archaeologists find cave, then realize 70,000 Christians may have hidden in biggest underground city on Earth

In Turkey, archaeologists think they may have found the largest underground city in the world — and it was potentially used to hide persecuted Christians.

The discovery, made in the Mardin province in southeastern Turkey, was first reported earlier this month.

(Here at The Western Journal, we bring you news and analysis from a conservative, Christian perspective — news you often won’t catch in the mainstream media. If you support our mission, you can help us by subscribing.)

The news was initially reported by the Turkish government’s state-run Anadolu Agency, in an article published in Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.

TRENDING: Archaeologists find cave, then realize 70,000 Christians may have hidden in biggest underground city on Earth

According to the Anadolu Agency, artifacts dating from the second and third centuries A.D. were found “in an underground city featuring places of worship, silos, water wells and passages with corridors.”

The Jerusalem Post noted the researchers excavating it believe it could be the largest underground city in the world.

The city was in the Midyat district, already known for its rich, historical significance.

“Midyat, which is almost an open-air museum with its history and culture, offers a magical atmosphere to its visitors with stone houses, inns, mosques, churches and monasteries that are thousands of years old,” the Anadolu Agency noted.

It was during a project to clean and conserve the district’s houses that a cave leading to the underground city was discovered two years ago.

“After it was determined that the cave is a passage to different places with corridors, excavation works were launched to unearth the underground city,” the Anadolu Agency reported.

The city is called “Matiate” — and while the archaeological find is not the only such site to be excavated in Turkey, authorities say this one is different.

“Matiate has been used uninterruptedly for 1,900 years,” Gani Tarkan, director of Mardin Museum, told the Anadolu Agency. He’s heading the excavations at Matiate.

“It was first built as a hiding place or escape area. As it is known, Christianity was not an official religion in the second century,” he said.

“Families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome or formed an underground city.

“Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose. It is an area where we estimate that at least 60-70,000 people lived underground.”

The excavation of Matiate will now spread to the whole Midyat district.

Tarkan told Turkish state broadcaster TRT World that the implications of excavating the site are massive.

 

“As of now, we have excavated only 3 percent of it,” he said