Digging in Deeper: John 20:2

“So she went running to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!’”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter

John wrote his account of Jesus’ life and ministry about 30 years after the other three gospels had already been recorded. In that time, the original three had no doubt been copied and shared numerous times. Their stories and presentations of the teachings of Jesus (along with the other New Testament letters) were likely already shaping the young church. The first three, though, were not without their problems. John had the opportunity, knowing that all the other eye-witnesses to the resurrection were probably dead, to “set the record straight.” So, what did he do? 

He told basically the same tale with the same problems. Each of the gospel-author presentations, for instance, are slightly different from one another in detail. This includes John’s. Why not write one that harmonized the other three? Because he wasn’t interested in harmonization or image improving, he was interested in truth. 

Okay, but doesn’t that make the whole resurrection story less credible? I mean, here John says the Marys ran to the tell disciples as soon as they saw the tomb was empty. After Peter and John get to the tomb and return to Jerusalem is when the women witness the resurrected Christ. Luke has them seeing Jesus first and then running to the disciples. Matthew makes it sound like they were there to see the stone roll away and only includes mention of two post-resurrection appearances. Mark makes it sound like they didn’t tell anybody.

And then there’s the angels. Was there one or were there two? Did they appear before the women ran to tell the disciples as Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell it, or after like John does? And when they saw Jesus, was it just Mary who saw Him, or did all the women see Him? 

All of this just undercuts the believability of the whole story, right? Well…not so fast. First, I think there are pretty reasonable attempts to harmonize all of these apparently disparate details. I’m not going to try and go through all of those here. 

More importantly. It is these very minor discrepancies that actually lend credibility. Let’s say an accident happens at a major intersection at a busy time of day. Lots of people see the event happen. If you were to ask them all, every single one of them would be on track with each other for the big stuff. There was an accident. It happened in the afternoon. The white car ran the light and hit the blue minivan. The EMS folks got there and started working. Things like this. 

But, if you started pressing for more details, the stories are going to start to diversify a bit. What color was the offending driver’s shirt? Was it a fire truck or a police cruiser that arrived first? Did anyone get out of their own cars to help before the emergency crews arrived and got to work or afterwards? How many passengers were in the minivan? Depending on who you ask and where they were relative to the crash, these details might be slightly different from each other. 

This is entirely normal. None of them are being untruthful in their reporting. None of them are trying to cover anything up. They are all earnestly reporting things to the best of their memory. The police investigators who are tasked with piecing together what happened understand and account for this. And, their goal is to paint an accurate picture of the key details. There was a wreck around mid-morning on Thursday. The white car ran the light from the west-bound lanes and hit the blue minivan on the passenger side. As long as those key facts are in place, the rest don’t matter nearly as much. 

This is what we find in the Gospel accounts in the presentation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have four different eye-witnesses or recorders of eye-witness testimony offering a report of what they saw and experienced. The small details may vary some, but not to a degree that makes them unreliable. And more importantly, on the key points they are all crystal clear: Jesus rose from the dead. 

The fact is, if all the stories were exactly the same, then we would look with suspicion on the whole thing. It’s when the stories of various witnesses are all identical without any variance at all that we begin to suspect some dishonest coordination. 

John didn’t “fix” the stories of the other guys because he was interested in telling the same truth they were: Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead and you can believe it.

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