Harmony of the Resurrection Accounts

One of the biggest charges of the non-Christian world against Christianity andthe Bible is that the four Gospel accounts are "contradictory", and the biggest place this stands out is in their accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the events immediately following. I was just finishing up George W. Knight's Harmony of the Gospels (Holman, 1999, 2000), a completely blended (rather than the parallel columns) which includes commentary. This got me looking at the different accounts of the resurrection and afterward. I remembered the disparity between "one man", "an angel", "two men, "two angels", being a problem. But now for the first time I noticed a whole other bunch of seeming conflicts; especially involving the women who went to the tomb first, (and whether they went and told everyone right away, or fled in fear) and then even the "eleven disciples", and whether they saw Jesus first at Galilee, like He promised, or Jerusalem. In some places, this book would admit the discrepancies, printing one Gospel's version of an event, with an alternate version in brackets.

But reading the Gospels separately, it suddenly dawned on me, that Luke's version does not specify any women by name until v10, which looked like it could have been a parenthetical recap of an earlier event. This could explain both why one angel was seen once, and two were seen; and how some could not tell anyone right away, while others run to tell the disciples immediately.

Another discrepancy was that spices were said to be prepared before the Sabbath, but on the other hand, bought after the sabbath. This has been used by those favoring a Wed. crucifixion/Thurs. annual "sabbath" theory (still, if that was true, Friday is never mentioned. The day to day sequence always seems to go straight: Burial—Sabbath—Resurrection.)

Then, it also occurred to me, that there must have been more than one group of disciples, with one of them called "the eleven", even though all eleven were not always together. After all, we see in places Peter or "Simon" separate from and mentioned to "the eleven", and Thomas, "of the Twelve" is separated from them. Paul also seems to distinguish "Peter and the twelve"; then "James, then the apostles".

The Gospels are not exhaustive accounts of every word and action ever said. So it seems that all the discrepancies are from missed details. Each account was aimed at a specific audience, and it was not really meant to be put together. The original readers, however, would have clearly remembered enough information (and perhaps they saw/heard other true accounts which weren't preserved) to remember, which women did what, and which of the eleven disciples went where.

So it seems the key to all of this is that when Luke says "the women"/"they", it is all the women besides the Mary's and Salome; when Mark says it, it is the other Mary and Salome; when Matthew says it, is most likely the two Mary's, until inside the tomb, which would go along with Mark‘s account.

So that would make there be really three groups of women. Mary, the other two who are mentioned with her (but they apparently split up), and then the rest who prepared the spices before. It can't be one group, as one might assume. Mary Magdalene, in John, leaves the tomb going to Peter still saying "They have taken away the Lord and I don't know where they've laid Him!" She wouldn't be saying that if she had seen the angel[s] already. She only saw the stone rolled away. Immediately after she does see angels, she sees Christ.
In Matthew and Mark, they enter the tomb and see the angel, and Mark reports that they run and do not tell anyone. Matthew says that they do, but this has to be after John and Mark's account of Him appearing first to Mary, then her telling the other women.
Then, He appears to all three of them, which is different from His first appearance to Mary in John. Then, He said He could not be touched, because He did not make His preliminary ascent to the Father yet. (the antitypical "wave offering" on the Day of Firstfruits the day after the Sabbath following the Passover). Yet, the next appearance, He is ready to meet the apostles, and gives the message where they should see Him.

And not even two groups, such as the three women and all the rest; because while Mary Magdalene is mentioned as coming while it was yet still dark in John, then seeing the empty tomb and running to tell Peter, apparently by herself; after she and the other two are mentioned in Mark; the sun is already risen, and they are still asking "Who shall roll away the stone". So Mary Magdalene could not have been in that group at that time. This was another important key observation that I consistently had to take into account.
Nor Mary Magdalene by herself and all the rest; because Matthew and Mark's account has "them" seeing one angel, and Luke's account has "them" seeing two angels, and John's account specifies Mary Magdalene as seeing two. So the "them" of Matt. and Mark, and the "them" of Luke must be different; and Mary Magdalene can be apart of neither group upon seeing the inside of the tomb.
Also that Mark's account has them fleeing and telling no one, while Matthew has the same "them" running in fear and joy and telling right away (so something-- Mark's account of Mary telling the other women, must have been in between there), and in John, of course Mary went and told Peter right away.

I also considered Mary Magdalene returning with Peter and John, and of course, it wasn't mentioned either way. The passage does say "She stood outside" as if she was there all the time. But John's account was so detailed on himself and Peter racing there, so if Mary had come back with them, you would think she would have been mentioned in relation to their position. Plus, since they were racing, with one beating the other, that all the more makes it a good bet Mary arrived after both of them!
And to try to build a more consistent sequence with the angels, because once again, at first there was one, then the other women she bought spices with, but arrive at sunrise still see one, yet she sees two. (followed by the rest seeing two). Of course, there could have been one joined by a second, who then disappears and reappears again. But this seems more likely. (At least we no longer have a contradiction of one versus two, with such weak arguments as "Well it must have looked like one or two to the different witnesses depending on the angle/viewpoint"!)

Mark and Luke speak of a bulk of the remainder of the twelve, which saw Jesus first in Jerusalem, as "the eleven", while Matthew calls the group who saw Him first at Galilee "the eleven", and John and Paul still speak of "the twelve" (John referring to Thomas, apart of this group).

Even as I was writing this, it occurred to me that the reference to Him appearing to "Simon" could refer to him being in the group that went to Galilee; and I shuffled around some of the sections.

So here is my attempt to assemble the passages in their chronological order:

Color key:

Time sequence
Places (Galilee vs. Jerusalem)
Possibly the women or men on road to Emmaus (Mk. 16:12)
Possibly other women or other disciples (Mk. 16:12)
Thomas/“some doubted” (Matt. 28:17 John 20:24)
Appearances of Christ
Words of Christ


0) Luke 23

55 And also women were following, who were accompanying Him out of Galilee, who watched the tomb, and how His body was placed.
56 And
they returned and they prepared spices and ointment. And they rested on the sabbath day according to the commandment. [Note: does not specify 2 Mary’s and Salome, who bought spices after sabbath!]

1)Mark 16

1 ¶ And when the sabbath was past [to elapse meanwhile], Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, had bought sweet spices so that they might come and anoint Him.

2) Matthew 28

1 ¶ But at the end [late in the day; by extens. after the day] of the Sabbath , as it began to dawn [draw light] toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. [Perhaps went; e.g. ch.12:9, 13:36, 14:12, Mk.3:19, Lk.2:44, 14:1, Jn.4:45, 6:17, Acts 4:23, 28:14, Heb. 11:18, and not even necessarily at the same time!]

3) [John 20

1 ¶ The first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, when it was yet dark,]


2 And behold, a great earthquake occurred! For coming down from Heaven, and coming up, an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone from the door and was sitting on it.
3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
4 And the keepers shook for fear of him and became like dead men .

5) Jn.

and she [Mary Magdalene] saw the stone taken away from the tomb.
2 Then
she [Mary Magdalene] ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.
3 Therefore Peter and that other disciple went forth and came to the tomb.
4 So they both ran together. And the other disciple outran Peter and came first to the tomb.
5 And stooping down he saw the linens lying, yet he did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came following him and went into the tomb. And he saw the linens lying there.
7 And the grave-cloth that was on His head was not lying with the linens, but was wrapped up in one place by itself.
8 Therefore, then, that other disciple also went in, the one who came first to the tomb. And he saw and believed.
9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead.
10 Then the disciples went away again to themselves. [KJV: “their own home”]
[Lk. 12 And Peter arose and ran to the tomb, and stooping down he saw the linens lying alone. And he went away wondering to himself at what had happened.]


2 And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came upon the tomb, the sun having risen. [Perhaps other Mary and Salome, excluding Mary Magdalene, who was specified only in the buying of spices]
3 And
they said among themselves, Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?
4 And looking up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back, for it was very great.
5 And entering into the tomb,
they saw a young man sitting on the right, clothed in a long white garment. And they were frightened.
7) [perhaps, Mary Magdalene now drops out of Matthew's account, just like Mark. (once again, she is mentioned in first verse, as coming, or more accurately having went, but not necessarily accompanying the others). So she probably did not see any angels at all yet when she reported to Peter.]


5 And the angel answered and said to the women, Do not fear, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead. And, behold,
He goes before you into Galilee. There you shall see Him. Lo, I have told you.


6 And he said to them, Do not be frightened. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him.
7 But go tell His disciples and Peter that
He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, as He said to you.



8) Mk.

8 And they [the other Mary and Salome] went out quickly and fled from the tomb. For they trembled and were amazed. Neither did they say anything to anyone, for they were afraid.


11 ¶ But Mary [Magdalene, apparently having come back behind Peter] stood outside of the tomb, weeping. And as she wept, she stooped down into the tomb.
12 And she saw
two angels in white sitting there, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they said to her, Woman, why do you weep? She said to them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.
14 And when she had said this, she turned backward and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her,
Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek? Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, Sir, if you have carried Him away from here, tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.
16 Jesus said to her,
Mary! She turned herself and said to Him, Rabboni! (which is to say, Master!)
17 Jesus said to her,
Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father. But go to My brothers and say to them, I ascend to My Father and Your Father, and to My God and your God.

10) Mk.

[9 ¶ And when [Jesus— not in text; perhaps refers to the sun, in v.2!] had risen early the first day of the week, He [risen Jesus was referred to in v.6] appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.]
10 She went and told
those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. [i.e. all other women, including other Mary and Salome]
11 And
those hearing that He lives, and was seen by her, did not believe. [except, apparently, for the other Mary and Salome].


8 And they [the Mary’s & probably also Salome, now united] quickly departed from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.
9 But as
they were going to report to His disciples, behold, Jesus also met them, saying, Hail! And they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
10 Then Jesus said to them,
Do not be afraid; go tell My brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see Me.

12)Lk v.10 Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the rest with them, told these things to the apostles. [I.e. eleven and “apostles” apparently two different groups!]
[Jn. 18
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken these things to her.]
11 (Lk.) And
their words seemed to them like foolishness, and they did not believe them.

[Note: Mk. v12 “After that, He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked and went into the country

13 And they went and told it to the rest; neither believed them”. —Is this the two Mary’s of Matthew, or the Men on the road to Emmaus of Luke?]

13) Luke 24

1 ¶ And on the first day of the week, while still very early, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. [Note: Does NOT specify two Mary’s and Salome! So it is “other“ women, who had prepared the spices, and didn‘t believe the Marys‘ report—#10]


2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
3 And going in,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.


4 And as they were much perplexed about it, it happened that, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.
5 And as
they were afraid, and bowed their faces down to the earth, they said to them, Why do you seek the living among the dead?
6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,
7 saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and the third day rise again?
8 And
they remembered His words
9 and returned from the tomb and
told all these things to the Eleven and to the rest.
10 “It was…who…” [Parenthetical statement. The Mary’s, Joanna’s, and Peter’s acts were previous, and the “apostles” separate; see #12]

16) [Guards and Pharisees fabricate first “Passover plot”—Mt.]


16 ¶ And the eleven disciples [NOT the same as Luke’s “eleven”] went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.


19 ¶ Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, Peace to you!
20 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 Then Jesus said to them again,
Peace to you. As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you.
22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 Of whomever sins you remit, they are remitted to them. Of whomever sins you retain, they are retained


17 [And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But some doubted].


24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the Lord. But
he said to them, Unless I shall see the print of the nails in His hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.

20) [Rd. to Emmaus—Mk.? Lk.

[Note: Mk. v12 “After that, He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked and went into the country
13 And
they went and told it to the rest; neither believed them”. —Is this the two Mary’s of Matthew, or the Men on the road to Emmaus of Luke?]

Their account of events:

22 “Yes, and also some of our women astounded us, having been early at the tomb;
23 and when they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive.
24 And
some of those with us went to the tomb and found it even as the women had said. But they did not see Him”.]


33 And they [two men on road to Emmaus] rose up the same hour and returned to Jerusalem and found assembled the Eleven and those with them.
34 And they said, the Lord has indeed risen, and
has appeared to Simon. [Perhaps in the group described in #17 & 18!]
35 And in the way they related the things happening, and how He had been known by them in breaking of the loaf.
36 ¶ And as they spoke this,
Jesus Himself stood in their midst, [Mk. 14 ¶ Afterward He appeared to the Eleven as they reclined] and said to them, Peace to you!
37 But they were terrified and filled with fear, for they thought they saw a spirit.
[Mk. And He reproached their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen].
38 And He said to them,
Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold My hands and My feet, that I am He! Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see Me have.
40 And when He had spoken this, He showed them His hands and feet.
41 And while they still did not believe for joy, and wondered, He said to them,
Have you any food here?
42 And they handed to Him a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb.
43 And He took it and ate before them.
44 And He said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms about Me.
45 And He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures.
46 And He said to them,
So it is written, and so it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,
47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be proclaimed in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 And you are witnesses of these things.
49 And behold, I send the promise of My father on you. But you sit in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.

22) Jn.

26 And after eight days again, His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus…and stood in the midst…[end of chapter]
John 21
1 ¶ After these things Jesus
revealed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. And He revealed Himself this way:
2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called the Twin, and Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.
3 Simon Peter said to them, I am going out to fish. They said to him, We will go with you also. They went out and entered into a boat immediately. And that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the morning had come, Jesus stood on the shore. But the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Then Jesus said to them,
Children, do you have anything to eat? They answered Him, No.
6 And He said to them,
Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find. Therefore they cast, and now they no longer had the strength to draw, from the multitude of fish.
7 Then that disciple whom Jesus loves said to Peter, It is the Lord! Then hearing that it is the Lord, Simon Peter girded on his coat (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea.
8 And the other disciples came in a little boat (for they were not far from land, only about two hundred cubits), dragging the net of fish.
9 Then when they went up on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and a fish lying on it , and bread.
10 And Jesus said to them,
Bring from the fish which you have now caught.
11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three. And though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them,
Come, break fast. And none of the disciples dared to ask Him, Who are You? knowing that it was the Lord.
13 Then Jesus came and took the bread and gave to them, and in the same way the little fish.
14 This is now the
third time Jesus was revealed to His disciples, He being risen from the dead.
[~~~to end of John]

23)[jumps to end of forty days]


18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority is given to Me in Heaven and in earth.
19 Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world.


15 And He said to them, Go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to all the creation.
16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.
17 And miraculous signs will follow to those believing these things: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak new tongues;
18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will be well.



19 ¶ Then indeed, after speaking to them, the Lord was taken up into Heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.


50 ¶ And He led them out as far as Bethany. And lifting up His hands, He blessed them.
51 And it happened as He blessed them, He withdrew from them and was carried up into Heaven.



20 And going out, they proclaimed everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by miraculous signs following. Amen.

52 And worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

53 And they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. [overlapping with Acts account] Amen.

(See entire Gospel blended into in one narrative).

To summarize the whole thing:

0 Women besides 2 Mary's and Salome prepare spices before the Sabbath
1 2 Mary's and Salome buy spices
2 at end of Sabbath/beginning of first day, the two Mary's set out to come to the tomb.
3 Mary Magdalene gets there first, when it is yet dark
4 Earthquake, and angle rolls away stone
5 Mary Magdalene sees stone rolled away and tells Peter, who comes with John and sees empty grave cloths, and both leave.
6 Other Mary and Salome arrive after the sun has risen, and find stone rolled away and single angel, still there.
7 he tells them Jesus has risen
8 But they run away afraid, and don't tell anyone
9 Mary returns from having gotten Peter, and weeps. By now, a second angel has joined the first, and then the risen Jesus makes his first appearance.
10 She goes and tells the other women, who don't believe; except, apparently, for...
11 the other Mary and Salome, who NOW "depart with fear and joy and ran to bring His disciples word", but Jesus meets them, and gives them the instruction that the disciples should meet them in Galilee.
12 They tell them, but they do not believe
13 Now, we pick up with Luke's account of the rest of the women, who did not believe Mary Magdalene. They now go to the tomb themselves, after all the others, but still "very early"; bringing the spices they had prepared before the Sabbath.
14 They find the empty tomb.
15 They now see the two angels, who give them the message, which they run to tell the eleven.
16)Guards and Pharisees fabricate their “Passover plot” myth.
17 The OTHER of "the eleven disciples" goes up to Galilee
18 and assemble, with the doors closed, and Jesus appears to them
19 Some (notably, Thomas, who wasn't there) still doubt, but then eight days later, Jesus appears again, so he can see.
20)Christ appears to men on the road to Emmaus.
21 They tell the eleven and others at Jerusalem (including that he had apparently already appeared to "Simon", in the other group). They at first still don't believe, but then Jesus appears to them, and corrects their unbelief. He also is given fish and honeycomb to eat.
22 He appears to them again in Galilee (sea of Tiberias), and causes them to catch a huge net of fish, which he gives them to eat.
23, 24 Jumps to end of forty days, with different parts of Great Commission reported by Matthew and Mark
25 ascension
26 Disciples begin to carry out commission. Picks up in book of Acts.


Acts 1
1 ¶ Truly, O Theophilus, I made the first report as to all things that Jesus began both to do and teach
2 until the day He was taken up, having given directions to the apostles whom He chose, through the Holy Spirit;
3 to whom He also presented Himself living after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them through forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
4 And having met with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father which you heard from Me.
5 For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

6 ¶ Then, indeed, these coming together, they asked Him, saying, Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?
7 And He said to them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own authority.
8 But you shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

9 And saying these things, as they watched, He was taken up. And a cloud received Him out of their sight.
10 And while they were looking steadfastly into the heaven, He having gone, even behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them,
11 who also said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into the heaven? This same Jesus who is taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the way you have seen Him going into Heaven.
12 ¶ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount Of Olive Grove, which is a sabbath day's journey from Jerusalem.
13 And when they had come in, they went up into an upper room, where Peter and James, and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James;
14 these all were continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

1 Corinthians 15
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures;
5 and that He was seen by
Cephas, then by the Twelve.
6 Afterward He was seen by over five hundred
brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain until this present day, but also some fell asleep.
7 Afterward He was seen by
James, then by all the apostles.