Did They Tarry in the City?
by Farrell Till
1992 / January-February
So much depends on the resurrection of Jesus. Without it, the whole superstructure of Christianity would collapse. To this, agreed even the Apostle Paul, whom some New Testament scholars consider to be the real architect of Christianity:
(I)f Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:17-19, KJV).
As vital to Christianity as the resurrection is, it rests upon the flimsiest of evidence: four contradictory “gospel” accounts and some scattered references in the New Testament epistles to a risen Messiah. And that’s it. As far as scholars have been able to determine, none of the gospel accounts of the resurrection were written by anyone who could have been an eyewitness to the event, and most of the epistolary references to it were made by the Apostle Paul, who by his own admission did not witness it either. He claimed that he had seen the resurrected Jesus in a vision on the road toDamascus.
The contradictory nature of the hearsay accounts of the resurrection constitute the most damaging evidence against it. If alleged eyewitnesses to an event as extraordinary as the revivification of a dead man should contradict themselves in a court of law as patently as did the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in their telling of the resurrection story, no intelligent jurors would give a speck of credence to their testimony, yet millions of Christians have accepted a resurrection story that is riddled with discrepancies.
In future issues of TSR, we will look at several points of discrepancy in the four resurrection accounts, but for now I will focus on just one: an alleged post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. If one were to ask a Christian versed in the scriptures if the disciples of Jesus met him in Galileeafter his resurrection, the answer would surely be, “Yes, they did.” After all, Matthew, writing about postresurrection events, clearly said, “But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted” (28:16-27).
That seems clear enough, and if Matthew had been the only one to write about postresurrection events, this meeting in Galileewould certainly be believable to anyone who could accept the premise that a dead man had been resurrected. Considered in the context of all four gospel accounts of the resurrection, however, this meeting in Galilee poses tremendous credibility problems, because Luke said in his gospel that Jesus told his disciples on the night of his resurrection that they were to stay in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” (24:49). According to the same writer (Luke), this power came to them about fifty days later when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:3-5; 2:1-4), but by then Jesus had already ascended back to heaven, because he had remained on earth only forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). So if Luke was right and Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and if this power from on high did not come to them until fifty days later and if Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and if the disciples obeyed Jesus’s command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, how could they have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed?
Bibliolaters will say that the command to stay in the city until they were “clothed with power from on high” was not given to the disciples on the night of Jesus’s resurrection, but careful analysis of the text will not support them in this. Luke 24:1-12 described events that occurred at the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection. The women went there “at early dawn” (v:1), found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty (vv:2-3), and encountered two men in dazzling apparel who told them that Jesus was risen (vv:4-8). The women ran to tell the news to the eleven (v:9), who considered their words to be only idle talk (v:11), but Peter ran to the tomb, looked inside, and went back home, “wondering at that which was come to pass” (v:12).
After all these things were related, Luke said, “And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus” (v:13). The expression “that very day” surely was intended to mean the very day of the resurrection, the day all of the events just mentioned had happened. So the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv:15-27) had to have happened on the same day that Jesus was allegedly resurrected. If not, what did “that very day” mean?
Evidence that it was the very day of the resurrection is seen in verse 21. In the conversation that Jesus had with the disciples, the one named Cleopas stated, with implied doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah:
But we hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel. Yea and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things came to pass.
Cleopas clearly indicated in this statement that the events being narrated in this passage were taking place on the thirdLuke 24, everything happening was happening on the day of the resurrection. What day could that have been except the third day following the trial and crucifixion of Jesus that Cleopas had just summarized? As any Sunday school student knows, the resurrection was supposed to have occurred on that third day. So at this point in
When the trio arrived at Emmaus, Jesus “made as though he would go further” (v:28), but the two disciples “constrained him, saying, Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent” (v:29). The “far-spent day” would have been the day the journey started, so Luke’s narrative shows quite clearly that everything he was telling had happened on the third day, the day of the resurrection.
The insistence of the two disciples prevailed, and Jesus went into Emmaus with them. When they sat down to “break bread,” Jesus blessed the bread and gave it to the others. Until then, the two disciples had not recognized Jesus, but at the breaking of the bread “their eyes were opened” and they realized who he was as “he vanished out of their sight” (v:31). “And they (the two disciples) rose up that very hour, and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered together” (v:33).The eleven told the men that “the Lord is risen indeed and hath appeared unto Simon,” and the men told the eleven what they had seen (v:34). Emmaus was located only seven miles fromJerusalem, so if the two disciples had left “that very hour” after recognizing the vanishing Jesus and returned toJerusalem, they would certainly have arrived there the same night.
While the disciples from Emmaus were telling the eleven what they had seen, Jesus suddenly appeared out of nowhere:
And as they spake these things, he himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they beheld a spirit. And he said unto them, why are ye troubled? and wherefore do questionings arise in your heart? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet (vv:36-40).
Luke’s narrative at this point reads very much like John’s account of an appearance that Jesus made on the night of the resurrection day:
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side (John 20:19-20).
The similarity of these two accounts should confirm that the appearance of Jesus to the eleven that Luke wrote about did allegedly happen the night of the resurrection, because John plainly said that it occurred on “the first day of the week.”
In the continuation of Luke’s narrative, Jesus asked for something to eat, and a piece of broiled fish was given to him (v:41). After eating it, he spoke to the disciples about non-existent scriptures (as we will see in a later article) that his resurrection had fulfilled (vv:44-46). Then in giving to them Luke’s version of the “Great Commission,” he made the statement that casts serious doubt on Matthew’s claim of a postresurrection appearance inGalilee:
Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high (vv:48-49).
As related earlier, this “power from on high” that the apostles were to receive presumably came to them when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit:
(A)nd being assembled together with them, he (Jesus) charged them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: for John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence (Acts 1:4-5).
The apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), so that would have been the time that they received Jesus’s promise of “power from on high.” Pentecost (from a Greek word meaning fiftieth) fell fifty days after the sacrifice of the passover lamb (see Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.10.5-6), and Jesus was crucified as the passover was approaching (Matt. 26:1-5, 17-19; Mk. 14:1-2, 12-16; Lk. 22:1-2, 7-13; Jn. 18:28, 39). John even said that it was during the “preparation of the passover” that Jesus was taken before Pilate (19:14). So if Jesus was crucified at the time of the passover, he had already ascended back to heaven when the apostles were “clothed with power from on high” on the day of Pentecost (50 days after his crucifixion), because Luke claimed that he stayed on earth only forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).
By now the problem in reconciling Matthew’s resurrection account with Luke’s should be obvious. Luke very clearly indicated that Jesus on the night of his resurrection charged the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” (baptized in the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:4-5), so that leaves no room for a postresurrection appearance to the apostles on a mountain in Galilee. As I said earlier, IF Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and IF this power from on high did not come to them until some fifty days later and IF Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and IF the disciples obeyed Jesus’s command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, they couldn’t have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed.
No one can successfully argue that the meeting on the mountain in Galilee happened before the meeting in Jerusalemon the night of the resurrection, because that would pose other textual reconciliation problems. For one thing, Galilee was too far from Jerusalemto make such a meeting logistically possible. The disciples were presumably in Jerusalemthe morning of the resurrection, because the women ran to tell them of the empty tomb (Lk. 24:9). Peter and another disciple even ran to the tomb, looked inside, and returned home, wondering about what had happened (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-9). Are we to believe that after Peter returned home from the tomb, he and the other apostles journeyed to Galilee (a distance of some sixty or seventy air miles, even if the mountain was in the southernmost region of Galilee), saw Jesus, and then returned to Jerusalem ALL IN ONE DAY! The mere suggestion is preposterous (but perhaps not as preposterous as believing a resurrection story as riddled with contradictions as the one told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Besides, Luke said that when the disciples from Emmaus found the apostles in Jerusalem the night of the resurrection, they were immediately told, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (24:34). But if all of the eleven had met Jesus earlier that day on a mountain inGalilee, they would have surely told the disciples from Emmaus that Jesus had appeared to all of them.
There is just no way to reconcile Matthew’s story with Luke’s. If Matthew was right about a postresurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, then Luke was wrong in at least some details of his description of a postresurrection appearance inJerusalemthe night of the resurrection. If Luke was right in all the details he described, then Matthew erred. One of them had to be wrong. Either that or believers in the resurrection will have to say that the apostles disobeyed Jesus’s command to stay inJerusalemuntil they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Either alternative they select won’t build much confidence in the Bible inerrancy doctrine.
The principle of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything) is certainly applicable to the four resurrection stories. This rule of evidence recognizes that testimony found to be false in one matter should be considered unreliable in other matters. So if either Luke or Matthew erred in telling the resurrection story, how could it possibly be that both were protected from error by the Holy Spirit as they wrote? If either of them was wrong about the when and where of postresurrection appearances, then maybe they were wrong about the resurrection period. Maybe it didn’t even happen. This is surely something for resurrection believers to think about. Or maybe they would rather go on with their heads in the sand.
Did They Or Didn’t They?
by Farrell Till
1992 / May-June
In the Autumn 1991 issue, we began a series of articles designed to show inconsistencies in the resurrection accounts of the four gospels. Gallons of ink have been used in attempts to explain away these inconsistencies, but some of the variations in the accounts are so discrepant that only the very gullible could possibly believe the far-fetched scenarios that bibliolaters have resorted to in trying to harmonize them. Of these discrepancies, none is more obvious than the variations in what the gospel writers said that the women did to spread word of the empty tomb after hearing from the angel(s) that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Matthew and Luke both said that the women hurried from the tomb to tell the disciples what the angel(s) had told them (Matt. 28:8; Luke 24:9). Even John, whose version of the story differs significantly from the synoptic accounts, said that Mary Magdalene ran to find Peter and “the other disciple” to tell them that the body of Jesus had been taken away (20:2). Three of the gospel writers, then, clearly depicted the eagerness of the women to report to the disciples what they had found at the empty tomb.
Mark, however, recorded this part of the story in an entirely different way. After telling of their encounter with an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen and that they should go tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee(16:6-7), Mark said that the women were too frightened to tell others what they had seen:
And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid (v:8).
The discrepancy is obvious, but it is even more obvious if Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts are juxtaposed with Mark’s:
And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word (Matt. 28:8).
And they remembered his (Jesus’s) words and returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest (Luke 24:8-9).
Luke’s account even recorded an alleged conversation between Jesus and two disciples (on resurrection day) in which one of the disciples said that the women had reported finding the tomb empty:
Moreover, certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive (24:22-23).
So the facts in this matter are apparent enough: three gospel writers said that the women ran to report the empty tomb; one said that they were so frightened by what they had seen that “they said nothing to anyone.” A rule of evidence noted in an earlier article in this series (“The Resurrection Maze,” Spring 1992, p. 12) states that two or more contradictory statements cannot all be right. So who was right in the way this part of the resurrection story was told? Were Matthew, Luke, and John right in saying that the women ran to report the empty tomb to the other disciples? Or was Mark right when he said that they were so frightened that they said “nothing to anyone”? Did they tell anyone what they had seen or didn’t they? That’s the problem that inerrantists must resolve.
In my debate with Bill Jackson, he presented a completely speculative solution to the problem:
(T)he women told no man they met by the way, but the accounts are correct in that they told the apostles (Jackson-Till Debate, TSR edition, p. 63).
I say that this solution is speculative for the simple reason that it assumes something that is not explicitly stated in the text. Mark did not say, “(A)nd they said nothing to anyone on their way to find the disciples, for they were afraid”; he said that they said nothing to anyone, period. TheChurchofChrist, which Mr. Jackson preached for, prides itself on “speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent.” However, when Bible inerrancy is at stake, Church-of-Christ preachers will speak volumes on matters that the Bible is clearly silent on. This is just one example of their willingness to break biblical silence.
At this point, inerrantists will usually argue that Mark did say that at least one of the women reported what she had seen at the tomb:
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved (16:9-11).
Such appeals as this, however, ignore completely the question of authenticity. In scholarly circles, Mark 16:9-20 is known as the “Marcan Appendix,” because there are sound reasons for believing that the author of Mark did not write this passage. Textual evidence indicates that as far as original materials are concerned Mark should end at verse 8 with the statement about the women being too afraid to tell others what they had seen. Verses 9-20 were redacted by a later scribe.
My own edition of the American Standard Version affixed this footnote at the beginning of verse 9: “The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel.” My NIV edition has a bracketed statement between verses 8 and 9: “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16: 9-20.” Of the 17 versions of the New Testament in my personal library, 15 of them have reference notes to tell readers that this ending to Mark was not in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
One of the early manuscripts that did not include the Marcan Appendix was Codex Sinaiticus (4th-century A.D.), which ended Mark’s gospel at 16:8. In Secrets of Mt. Sinai, James Bentley made this observation about the omission of the Marcan Appendix in Codex Sinaiticus:
The scribe who brought Mark’s Gospel to an end in Codex Sinaiticus had no doubt that it finished at chapter 16, verse 8. He underlined the text with a fine artistic squiggle, and wrote, “The Gospel according to Mark.” Immediately following begins the Gospel of Luke (p. 139).
Codex Sinaiticus is the only ancient Greek manuscript that contains the entire New Testament. The fact that it did not include the Marcan Appendix clearly suggests that the 4th-century scribes who copied it had before them a version of Mark that ended with 16:8. In the foreword to Bentley’s book (p. 6), the renown pseudepigraphic scholar James H. Charlesworth pointed out that Codex Syriacus (a 5th-century translation), Codex Vaticanus (mid-4th century), and Codex Bobiensis (4th- or 5th-century Latin) are all early manuscripts that exclude the Marcan Appendix. In addition to these, approximately 100 early Armenian translations, as well as the two oldest Georgian translations, also omitted the appendix (Bentley, p. 179). Manuscripts written after Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have been found that contained the Marcan Appendix but with scribal notes in the margins that said the verses were not in older copies; others have been found that had dots or asterisks by the verses in the Marcan Appendix as if to signal that they were in some way different from the rest of the text (Bentley, p. 179). These facts give us compelling reasons for suspecting that the Marcan Appendix was indeed the redaction of a scribe who considered Mark’s omission of postresurrection appearances to be an inadequate way to end the gospel.
In addition to the Marcan Appendix, some manuscripts ended Mark’s gospel with other variations. Codex Washingtonensis (late 4th or early 5th century A.D.), for example, included the addition to 16:14 that is known as the Freer Logion. It is the underlined statement added to the following quotation of verse 14:
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sit- ting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal your righteousness now”–thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and imperishable glory of righteousness that is in heaven” (NRSV).
Other manuscripts added to verse 8 still another but much shorter ending than the Marcan Appendix: “And all that had been commanded them they (the women who had gone to the tomb–FT) told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation” (NRSV), to which even other manuscripts added Amen.
If anything is clear from all this it should be that the ending to Mark’s gospel has undergone considerable editing. What the original ending actually was may now be permanently lost in the wake of all this scribal tampering, but the scholastic consensus is that none of the variant endings– the Marcan Appendix, the Freer Logion, and the “short ending”–were the work of the original writer. The reasons for that consensus are summarized in the following quotation from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary:
The longer ending, traditionally designated Mark 16:9-20, differs in vocabulary and style from the rest of the Gospel, is absent from the best and earliest mss. now available, and was absent from mss. in patristic times. It is most likely a 2nd-cent. compendium of appearance stories based primarily on Luke 24, with some influence from John 20…. The so-called shorter ending consists of the women’s reports to Peter and Jesus’ commis- sioning of the disciples to preach the gospel. Here too the non- Marcan language and the weak ms. evidence indicate that this passage did not close the Gospel.
The so-called Freer Logion in Codex W at 16:14 of the longer ending is a late gloss aimed at softening the condemnation of the disciples in 16:14. All the endings attached to Mark in the ms. tradition were added because scribes considered 16:1-8 inadequate as an ending (p. 629, emphasis added).
The stylistic and vocabulary differences referred to in this quotation are apparent even in English translations of the variant endings, but even without this consideration, suspicion is cast onto their authenticity by (1) the obvious attempt to reconcile Mark’s ending with Luke’s and John’s accounts of postresurrection appearances and (2) the inconsistencies between the appendix and what Mark had said earlier in the chapter.
As noted in previous articles, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all referred to women (plural) who went to the tomb and found it empty. Luke mentioned three by name and referred to “other women” who were on the scene (24:10), and even Mark specified that at least three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) were there. However, after declaring that the women “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (v:8), chapter 16 of Mark suddenly begins to read like John’s version, which focused on Mary Magdalene’s role in the story: “Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (v:9). If “Mark” really wrote this verse, one has to wonder why, after having said that at least three women had gone to the tomb, and seen the angel, and heard the angel’s message to go tell the disciples, he would have said that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. If other women were there, why wouldn’t they have all seen him? Indeed, Matthew claimed that they did all see him (28:9). So this 9th verse reads suspiciously like a statement written by someone wanting to give a twist to the story, as Mark had begun it, that would make it at least a little more compatible with John’s version.
If this was the redactor’s intention, he failed miserably, for he later said that Mary Magdalene “went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept, (a)nd they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved” (vv:10-11). This deviates significantly from John’s version, whose Mary Magdalene went not to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen and that she had seen him but to say, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him” (20:2). Indeed, John’s Mary never saw Jesus until she had returned to the tomb, and even then she didn’t recognize him. She thought he was the gardener (20:14-15)!
The redactor of the Marcan Appendix went on to say, “And after these things, he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country” (v:12). This was surely an allusion to Luke’s account of the appearance Jesus made to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-27), at which time he wasn’t recognized until he sat down with the disciples and broke bread with them (vv:28-31). In telling this, however, the redactor again bungled his attempt to harmonize Mark’s ending with other postresurrection accounts, because he said that after Jesus appeared to these two disciples, “they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them” (vv:12-13, NRSV). This disagrees with Luke’s version of the report that the Emmaus disciples made to the apostles. Luke said that when they realized they had seen Jesus, the disciples from Emmaus “rose up that very hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them” (24:33). However, Luke’s eleven did not disbelieve the report of the Emmaus disciples. Even before the two from Emmaus reported that they had seen Jesus, the eleven said to them, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (v:34). Only after this did the Emmaus disciples tell “the things that happened in the way, and how he was known of them in the breaking of the bread” (v:34). So why would the apostles have disbelieved the report of the Emmaus disciples if by then they themselves were proclaiming that Jesus had risen and appeared to Simon?
What we have in the Marcan Appendix, then, is an obviously bungled attempt to harmonize the ending of Mark’s gospel with other accounts of postresurrection appearances. The failure is so apparent that the authenticity of the appendix must be rejected. So the did-they-or-didn’t-they problem is still with us. As far as we know, “Mark” wrote nothing about postresurrection appearances and possibly ended his gospel at 16:8. At that point, he said that the women ran from the tomb so frightened that they “said nothing to anyone.” Matthew, Luke, and John all disputed that. So what is the truth in this matter? Did the women go tell the disciples what they had seen or didn’t they? Both versions of the story can’t be right.
Somebody has to be wrong, and the inerrantists can take their pick. The version of Matthew, Luke, and John or the one by Mark–it doesn’t matter. If either version is wrong, then the Bible is not inerrant. One thing is sure: the four resurrection accounts are certainly not inerrant.