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Question

Good morning Father Angelo,

I don’t know if an answer has already been given to my following question.

How is it possible that the canonical gospels diverge on some important details concerning  the discovery of the empty tomb?

Let me explain: St Luke narrates that on Easter morning there were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and other women who were with them at the tomb (Luke 24.10) and that 2 men (the 2 Angels) appeared to them.

The Gospels of St Mark and St. Matthew, on the other hand, tell of only 1 Angel and fewer women at the tomb (in Mark’s Gospel only Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome are mentioned while in Matthew’s Gospel, in addition to Mary Magdalene, we only have another generic Mary).

Not to mention St John (not synoptic a Gospel but not for this unreliable, just the contrary …) who mentions that only Mary Magdalene who after the dialogue with the 2 Angels sees Jesus himself in the garden (initially believing him to be the gardener, John 20:14), meeting never mentioned by the other Evangelists.

In essence, why does such a difference in narration occur on a fundamental fact on which all our faith is based?

It is understandable to find differences in the account of daily events that occurred during the life of Jesus, but on an event such as the Resurrection I do not understand how there cannot be perfect narrative “harmony” between the various Gospels, which, in the eyes of the pagans, could and can invalidate the reliability of what has been described.

Thank you and I ask you for a prayer for me and for my loved ones.

Manuele


Priest’s answer

Dear Manuele,

1. If we keep in mind that the main Author of the Gospels is the Holy Spirit, the objection immediately falls: He whom Jesus called the Spirit of truth cannot be deceived or deceived about the event of Christ’s Resurrection on which our faith is based.

From a purely human point of view, the first impression would say that the evangelists, like the apostles, did not agree in telling a lie.

Apart from the fact that they themselves – as emerges from the various narratives – were caught off guard by this announcement and were locked in their homes for fear of Jews.

2. Then they could not give credit to this announcement because it was brought by women who at that time did not have the capacity to testify in courts.

It is completely inconceivable for how unrefined they could have been that while in danger of their lives they could organize such a lie on an unbelievable basis, such as the testimony of women.

It was like explicitly consigning themselves and with the utmost foolishness into the hands of those who sought them.

They were commoners for the most part, but they were serious people who carried out their work with honesty and competence.

3. Here is what the distinguished biblical scholar Marie-Joseph Lagrange, founder of the Ècole biblique in Jerusalem, says about the differences in the stories:

“The four evangelists tell each in his own way how the tomb of Jesus was, not without the great wonder of the friends of Christ, found empty.

St Matthew’s and St MarK’s versions are the ones that most resemble each other; St Luke is closer to St Mark’s Gospel. As for St John, he follows his own path but agrees with St Luke about an investigation carried out by Peter.

The difficulty of getting them to agree has been greatly exaggerated.

Nothing could be simpler when you don’t want to stop at irrelevant details and take into account the composition of each gospel.

Saturday ended when the ban on work for Easter ended with the sunset. The solemnity lasted eight days, and of these only the first and last were days of rest (Dt 16.8).

The women, however, who formed the retinue of Jesus did not leave the house, where they were probably all hospitalized, until very early the next morning.

St Mark names among them Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome. Instead of Salome, St Luke names Joanna whom he alone has made known to us (Lk 8:3), while St Matthew only names Mary of Magdala and the other Mary.

Clearly none of them wanted to be complete and each one simply kept only the information he had, without worrying about what the others had told.

It will be observed, however, that Mary of Magdala is always named the first and that St. John speaks only of her.

To obtain harmony in the various stories it is sufficient to suppose that Mary Magdalene, more ardent than the others, went straight to the tomb.

The other women, according to St Luke, had already prepared aromas and perfumed oil since Friday evening and perhaps they already had enough of it in the house they were living in.

It is probable, however, that St Luke, according to his method (Luke 3:20; 22:19 ff),  narrated what concerned the burial and anticipated what St. Mark placed after Saturday, that is, the purchase of spices.

It is then very well understood that the women who went out early when it was still dark, had lost time in having their shops opened to buy the necessary spices and therefore, according to St Mark, they didn’t go to see the sepulcher before sunrise.

Magdalene had preceded them and thus it is explained that it was still dark when she noticed that the stone had been removed, that is to say, turned so much to leave the tomb open.

The guards had already left; however she had not worried about it, not knowing that they had been placed there. A furtive glance allowed her to make sure the body was gone. She saw no angel, while Jesus Himself informed her in person.

Immediately in her breathless restlessness suspecting a profanation of the adorable body of Jesus, she ran off to Simon Peter and Jesus’ favorite disciple.

She was very upset and did not hesitate to conclude: “They raised the Lord from the grave and we don’t know where they brought Him.” She speaks in the plural because she attributes her own conviction to those who, having gone out with her,

arrived at the tomb at that same moment.

These women had only listened to their hearts in making the decision to come and embalm the body of Jesus; however, as they went forward they felt the difficulties. They didn’t even know about the guards; but how to enter the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus?

The large stone that closed the entrance was an insuperable obstacle, nor were they able to turn it around. Even a man would have needed a lever, nor was it possible so early in the morning to find someone of good will to help them out.

They were sharing their concerns and anxieties when they found the stone already removed and they were even more pleased to acknowledge how huge it was.

Then, after having entered the tomb they did not find the body. Their disturbance was deep; it was certain that the disciples did not remove the stone and did not profane the body, disturbing the sacred peace of the tomb.

At that time they discovered a young man dressed in white sitting to their right on the arcosolium. Frightened they lowered their eyes to the ground while the young man said:

«Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you» (Mark 16,6).

According to St Mark, the pious women were so frightened that they would have fled and would not have said anything to anyone. It is understandable: they also feared not to be believed.

However, they changed their minds because St Luke and St Matthew make us understand that the women made the communication to the apostles. This certainly did not happen in the blink of an eye or without any incident.

St Mark, who usually loves to tell small details, would have given us indications on this point if the thread of his speech had not been interrupted here.

When his gospel was completed by him or someone else, this gap was not filled. The apostles would have believed to derogate from their own dignity by believing in the gossip of women; except that St Luke says that Peter, already prejudiced and first of all also in his capacity as head of the apostles, had run to the tomb and found it empty with only the bandages scattered on the ground, which made him particularly concerned.

This is the most widely known episode from St John as he too, the disciple designated as the one Jesus loved, took part in the anxious search.

He and Peter, who were probably together when Mary of Magdala came to bring the worrying news of the abduction of the body, left instantly and, in the grip of great anxiety, they both began to run. John, younger than Peter, ran faster and arrived first.

However, certainly out of consideration for his companion, he did not enter; but he only bent down and beyond the small antechamber saw the bandages on the ground. Peter, who followed him, resolutely entered the tomb and he too saw the bandages even more clearly, which showed that the body had not been kidnapped because in that case it would have been taken as it was.

Then he noticed something even stranger when he saw that the cloth placed over the Lord’s head was not lying in disorder along with the bandages, but had been folded and set aside. The other disciple also entered and saw the same thing; and both silently, astonished and collected, were not even able to exchange their impressions.

St John only says that from that point on he believed that Jesus was resurrected and this must have undoubtedly been Peter’s belief too.

Until that moment they had not understood that Christ had to rise according to Scripture, despite the fact that Jesus himself had announced it to all his apostles.

But such a fact seemed so unlikely to them that they had to acknowledge it only when they saw the evidence of what had happened.

It then appeared as that supreme consecration of the Messiah had been foretold (Is 53.11) “(The Gospel of Jesus Christ, pp. 273-276).

4. As you can see, this biblical scholar, with a little attention and good will, was able to reconstruct the narrative, collecting the details of the evangelists and putting them together in their essential unity.

I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo