Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bible difficulties Answered (Part 22)

By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (Proverbs 18:17)

85. When the women arrived at the tomb, was the stone "rolled back" (Mark 16:4), "rolled away" (Luke 24:2), "taken away" (John 20:1), or did they see an angel do it (Matthew 28:1-6)?

(Category: misread the text)

Matthew does not say that the women saw the angel roll the stone back. This accusation is indeed trivial. After documenting the women setting off for the tomb, Matthew relates the earthquake, which happened while they were still on their way. Verse 2 begins by saying, 'There was a violent earthquake', the Greek of which carries the sense of, 'now there had been a violent earthquake'. When the women speak to the angel in verse 5, we understand from Mark 16:5 that they had approached the tomb and gone inside, where he was sitting on the ledge where Jesus' body had been. Therefore, the answer to this question is that the stone was rolled away when they arrived: there is no contradiction.

86. In (Matthew 16:2; 28:7; Mark 16:5-6; Luke 24:4-5; 23), the women were told what happened to Jesus' body, while in (John 20:2) Mary was not told.

(Category: the texts are compatible with a little thought)

The angels told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. Matthew, Mark and Luke are all clear on this. The apparent discrepancy regarding the number of angels is cleared up when we realize that there were two groups of women. Mary Magdalene and her group probably set out from the house of John Mark, where the Last Supper had been held. Joanna and some other unnamed women, on the other hand, probably set out from Herod's residence, in a different part of the city. Joanna was the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household (Luke 8:3) and it is therefore highly probable that she and her companions set out from the royal residence.

With this in mind, it is clear that the first angel (who rolled away the stone and told Mary and Salome where Jesus was) had disappeared by the time Joanna and her companions arrived. When they got there (Luke 24:3-8), two angels appeared and told them the good news, after which they hurried off to tell the apostles. In Luke 24:10, all the women are mentioned together, as they all went to the apostles in the end.

We are now in a position to see why Mary Magdalene did not see the angels. John 20:1 tells us that Mary came to the tomb and we know from the other accounts that Salome and another Mary were with her. As soon as she saw the stone rolled away, she ran to tell the apostles, assuming that Jesus had been taken away. The other Mary and Salome, on the other hand, satisfied their curiosity by looking inside the tomb, where they found the angel who told them what had happened. So we see that the angels did inform the women, but that Mary Magdalene ran back before she had chance to meet them.

87. Did Mary Magdalene first meet the resurrected Jesus during her first visit (Matthew 28:9) or on her second visit (John 20:11-17)? And how did she react?

(Category: the texts are compatible with a little thought)

We have established in the last answer that Mary Magdalene ran back to the apostles as soon as she saw the stone had been rolled away. Therefore, when Matthew 28:9 records Jesus meeting them, she was not there. In fact, we understand from Mark 16:9 that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, which was after she, Peter and John had returned to the tomb the first time (John 20:1-18). Here, we see that Peter and John saw the tomb and went home, leaving Mary weeping by the entrance. From here, she saw the two angels inside the tomb and then met Jesus himself.

As all this happened before Jesus appeared to the other women, it appears that there was some delay in them reaching the apostles. We may understand what happened by comparing the complementary accounts. Matthew 28:8 tells us that the women (Mary the mother of James and Salome) ran away 'afraid yet filled with tell his disciples'. It appears that their fear initially got the better of them, for they 'said nothing to anyone' (Mark 16:8). It was at this time that Jesus suddenly met them (Matthew 28:9,10). Here, he calmed their fears and told them once more to go and tell the apostles.

There are several apparent problems in the harmonization of the resurrection accounts, a few of which have been touched on here. It has not been appropriate to attempt a full harmonization in this short paper, as we have been answering specific points. A complete harmonization has been commendably attempted by John Wenham in 'Easter Enigma' (most recent edition 1996, Paternoster Press). Anyone with further questions is invited to go this book.

It must be admitted that we have in certain places followed explanations or interpretations that are not specifically stated in the text. This is entirely permissible, as the explanations must merely be plausible. It is clear that the gospel authors are writing from different points of view, adding and leaving out different details. This is entirely to be expected from four authors writing independently. Far from casting doubt on their accounts, it gives added credibility, as those details which at first appear to be in conflict can be resolved with some thought, yet are free from the hallmarks of obvious collusion, either by the original authors or any subsequent editors.

88. Did Jesus instruct his disciples to wait for him in Galilee (Matthew 28:10), or that he was ascending to his Father and God (John 20:17)?

(Category: misread the text)

This apparent contradiction asks, 'What was Jesus' instruction for his disciples?' Shabbir uses Matthew 28:10 and John20:17 to demonstrate this apparent contradiction. However the two passages occur at different times on the same day and there is no reason to believe that Jesus would give his disciples only one instruction.

This is another contradiction which depends upon the reader of Shabbir's book being ignorant of the biblical passages and the events surrounding that Sunday morning resurrection. (I say Sunday because it is the first day of the week) The two passages, in fact, are complementary not contradictory. This is because the two passages do not refer to the same point in time. Matthew 28:10 speaks of the group of women encountering the risen Jesus on their way back to tell the disciples of what they had found. An empty tomb!? And then receiving the first set of instructions from him to tell the disciples.

The second passage from John 20:17 occurs some time after the first passage, (to understand the time framework read from the beginning of this Chapter) and takes place when Mary is by herself at the tomb grieving out of bewilderment, due to the events unraveling around about her. She sees Jesus and he gives her another set of instructions to pass on to the disciples.

89. Upon Jesus' instructions, did the disciples return to Galilee immediately (Matthew 28:17), or after at least 40 days (Luke 24:33, 49; Acts 1:3-4)?
(Category: didn't read the entire text and misquoted the text)

This supposed contradiction asks when the disciples returned to Galilee after the crucifixion. It is argued from Matthew 28:17 that they returned immediately, and from Luke 24:33 and 49, and Acts 1:4 that it was after at least 40 days. However both of these assumptions are wrong.

It would appear that Jesus appeared to them many times; sometimes individually, sometimes in groups, and as the whole group gathered together, and also at least to Paul and Stephen after the Ascension (see 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, and Acts 7:55-56). He appeared in Galilee and Jerusalem and other places. Matthew 28:16-20 is a summary of all the appearances of Christ, and it is for this reason that it is not advisable to overstress chronology in this account, as Shabbir seems to have done.

The second argument in this seeming contradiction is an even weaker argument than the one I have responded to above. This is because Shabbir has not fully quoted Acts 1:4 which says;

'On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about."'

Now the author of Acts, Luke in this passage does not specify when Jesus said this. However in his gospel he does the same thing as Matthew and groups together all the appearances so again it would be unwise to read too much chronologically into the passage of Luke 24:36-49. However it is apparent from the Gospels of Matthew and John that some of the disciples at least did go to Galilee and encounter Jesus there; presumably after the first encounter in Jerusalem and certainly before the end of the forty day period before Christ's Ascension into Heaven.


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