This document contains a comparison of the four canonical gospels' accounts of events after the burial of Jesus. I have tried not to leave out any of the main actions in any gospel; in the interest of brevity, however, I have omitted dialogue, much of which cannot be harmonized. Please note that I am not including the appearance accounts in the so-called "longer ending" of Mark (Mk 16:9-20), which is not in the best ancient manuscripts, in Part 1 of this comparison. The reason for this is that the longer ending contradicts the passage that comes immediately before it. I have included it, however, in Part 2. --George Amoss
To save time and space, I have used "Mt" to refer to Matthew, "Mk" for Mark, and "Lk" for Luke. Where a synoptic author (Mt, Mk, or Lk) is not mentioned at a particular point, that is because his account does not include whatever is being described. As will be seen, John's account is so different that it must be treated separately. (I apologize for the run-on sentences in what follows.)
THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS:
[The chief priests and Pharisees sealed the stone to Jesus' tomb and posted a guard there. (Mt)]
On the first day of the week, around the time of sunrise, Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" (Mt) and Salome (Mk); or Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary, and some other women (Lk); went to see the tomb (Mt) or to anoint Jesus' body (Mk, Lk). (Note: in John's gospel, the body had been anointed before burial.) When they arrived either there was an earthquake as a dazzling angel descended from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it (Mt); or the women found that the large stone had already been rolled away (Mk, Lk). Either the angel announced the resurrection ("He is not here; for he has risen, as he said") and sent them to tell the disciples that Jesus was going before them into Galilee, which they ran to do immediately, and Jesus appeared to them on the way, and they clasped his feet, and he told them to send the disciples to Galilee (Mt); or the women entered the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe whose words were similar to those of Matthew's angel, but the women ran away and "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (Mk); or the women saw only an empty tomb at first, and, while they were perplexed, two men in dazzling apparel appeared, announced the resurrection ("Why do you seek the living among the dead?") and reminded the women of the resurrection prophecy Jesus had made in Galilee, and the women then went back and told the Eleven and others, who did not believe them (Lk).
On the first day of the week, before dawn, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb. Seeing that the stone had been moved, she immediately ran and got Peter and the beloved disciple, teeling them that the body had been removed. They all ran to the tomb; the beloved disciple arrived first, but he let Peter enter ahead of him. They saw only the burial materials. The men went home, but Mary stayed, weeping. Peering into the tomb, she saw two angels in white. After speaking to them (they did not announce the resurrection, but simply asked why she was weeping), Mary turned around and saw Jesus, but she thought he was the groundskeeper. When he called her by name, she recognized him. Jesus told her not to hold on to him because he had not yet ascended. Mary went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord!" We are not told whether they believed or disbelieved her message.
[The guards told the chief priests what had happened at the tomb; the priests then bribed the guards to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body. (Mt)]
The Eleven went to a mountain in Galilee, where they saw Jesus (but some doubted), and, saying, "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me," he commissioned them to baptize all and teach them "to observe all that I have commanded you." Finally, he promised to be with them to the end of the age. (Mt)
Walking a few miles outside of Jerusalem that same day, two disciples met a stranger who interpreted the scriptures for them in relation to Jesus and whom they later recognized, in the breaking of bread, to be Jesus himself, whereupon he vanished. The disciples returned to Jerusalem, where the Eleven were, and while they were announcing the resurrection, Jesus appeared and commissioned them to preach repentance and forgiveness to all. Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem "until you are clothed with power from on high"; then he led them out to Bethany and "parted from them" - some texts have "and was carried up into heaven." (Lk)
Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who told the others, but they would not believe her. Then he appeared "in different form" to two disciples on a country road; they told the others but were not believed. After that, Jesus appeared to the Eleven, reproached them for not believing, and commissioned them to preach and baptize, promising them that they would perform miracles. Jesus then ascended to heaven and sat at God's right hand, performing miracles from there for the disciples. (Mk, the longer ending) (Note that in Acts the ascension takes place after a 40-day period of appearances of the risen Jesus.)
The evening of the same day (on which he had appeared to Mary of Magdala in the morning), Jesus appeared to his disciples in a locked room. He imparted the Holy Spirit (but see Acts) and commissioned them to forgive sins. Thomas, however, was absent at the time, and, when told what had happened, did not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared to them again; this time, Thomas saw and believed. John's gospel seems originally to have ended, immediately after that account, with the assurance that Jesus performed many other "signs" which were not recorded in the book, the purpose of the book being the awakening of faith in the reader. (John 20)
According to the Johannine Appendix (John 21):
Some time later (i.e., after the appearance to the group which included Thomas), Jesus appeared to seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee), where he caused them to make a miraculous catch of fish and then spoke with them. "This," says the author, "was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead" -- although the Gospel has, by this point, described four appearances, not three. (Did the author want to exclude Mary of Magdala from the category of disciple, or did he simply err?) The Appendix concludes without telling us how the appearance came to an end; however, it concludes with the assertions that what is written in it has been attested by the beloved disciple, "and we know that his testimony is true," and, redundantly, that "there is much else that Jesus did."
Of course, we have not considered Paul's list in 1 Cor. 15:3-8, which asserts that Jesus appeared first to Cephas (Peter?), then to "the Twelve" (actually, "the Eleven" at that time, including Peter?), then to "over 500 of our brothers," then to James, then to all the apostles (not the same as the Twelve?), and finally to Paul. It is clear, however, that Paul's list cannot be harmonized with any of the gospel accounts.
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