Greenleaf’s Harmony of the Resurrection Accounts
Adapted by W. R. Miller
In 1847, Harvard Law professor and attorney Simon Greenleaf published An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice, with a later edition in 1874, The Testimony of the Evangelists examined by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice, available in its entirety online courtesy of the University of Michigan here.
In addition to demonstrating why the Gospel accounts would be acceptable in a court of law, the 1874 edition featured a section called “Harmony of the Gospels,” which chronologically reconciled the testimonies from the King James Bible and addressed alleged discrepancies.
Regarding the differences in the accounts, Greenleaf wrote in § 34, “The character of their narratives is like that of all other true witnesses, containing -- as Dr. [William] Paley observes -- substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. [From A View of the Evidences of Christianity, 1794. See Appendix 2.] There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred.”
Greenleaf’s general discussion of alleged discrepancies from
Testimony of the Evangelists is excerpted in Appendix 1
of this essay. See Appendix 2
for Dr. William Paley’s commentary from Evidences of Christianity. See Appendix 3 for Walter M. Chandler’s
observations from The Trial of Jesus from
a Lawyer’s Standpoint, Vol. 1
The following is a presentation of Greenleaf’s “Harmony of the Gospels” from “Part IX: Our Lord’s Resurrection, His Subsequent Appearances and His Ascension. Time: Forty Days,” from pages 483-503. The four Gospel accounts are presented side-by-side in chronological order to the narrative. This harmony is interspersed with Greenleaf’s commentary from “Note on the Resurrection,” pp. 537-549. This will make it easier for the researcher to ascertain the harmonization of the narratives, in addressing the challenges of skeptics.
In adapting Greenleaf’s harmony, I have taken the liberty of
placing § 173. “Conclusion of John’s Gospel” in front
of § 172. “The Ascension.
Upon presenting his “Harmony of the Gospels,” Greenleaf states on pages 53-54,
“The narratives of the evangelists are now submitted to the reader's perusal and examination, upon the principles and by the rules already stated. For this purpose, and for the sake of more ready and close comparison, they are arranged in juxtaposition, after the general order of the latest and most approved harmonies. The question is not upon the strict propriety of the arrangement, but upon the veracity of the witnesses and the credibility of their narratives. With the relative merits of modern harmonists, and with points of controversy among theologians, the writer has.no concern. His business is that of a lawyer, examining the testimony of witnesses by the rules of his profession, in order to ascertain whether, if they had thus testified on oath, in a court of justice, they would be entitled to credit; and whether their narratives, as we now have them, would be received as ancient documents, coming from the proper custody. If so, then it is believed that every honest and impartial man will act consistently with that result, by receiving their testimony in all the extent of its import. To write out a full commentary or argument upon the text, would be a useless addition to the bulk of the volume; but a few notes have been added for illustration of the narratives, and for the clearing up of apparent discrepancies, as being all that members of the legal profession would desire.”
OUR LORD'S RESURRECTION, HIS SUBSEQUENT APPEARANCES, AND HIS ASCENSION
TIME: Forty days.
pp. 483 – 503.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION
§ 159. The morning of the Resurrection.
(FIRST DAY OF THE
1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, p. 537.
§ 1. The Time of the Resurrection.
Matthew 26:1, 2. Mark 16:1, 2, 9. Luke 24:1. John 20: 1-2.
That the resurrection of our Lord took place before full daylight on the first day of the week, follows from the unanimous testimony of the Evangelists respecting the visit of the women to the sepulchre. But the exact time at which he rose is nowhere specified. According to the Jewish mode of reckoning, the Sabbath ended and the next day began at sunset; so that had the resurrection occurred even before midnight, it would still have been upon the first day of the week, and the third day after our Lord's burial. The earthquake had taken place and the stone had been rolled away before the arrival of the women; and so far as the immediate narrative is concerned, there is nothing to show that all this might not have happened some hours earlier. Yet the words of Mark in another place render it certain, that there could have been no great interval between these events and the arrival of the women; since he affirms in v. 9, that Jesus “'had risen early, the first day of the week; “ while in v. 2, he states that the women went out “very early.” A like inference may be drawn from the fact, that the affrighted guards first went to inform the chief priests of these events, when the women returned to the city (Matt. 28:11); for it is hardly to be supposed, that after having been thus terrified by the earthquake and the appearance of an angel, they would have waited any very long time before sending information to their employers. —The body of Jesus had therefore probably lain in the tomb not less than about thirty-six hours.
§ 160. Visit of the women
to the sepulcher. Mary Magdelene returns [to the disciples]. (FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.)
1In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
2And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
1The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre,
4And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 537-539.
§ 2. The Visit of the Women to the Sepulchre.
Matt. 26:1-8. Mark 16:1-8. Luke 24:1-11. John 20:1, 2.
The first notices we have of our Lord's resurrection, are connected with the visit of the women to the sepulchre, on the morning of the first day of the week. According to Luke, the women who had stood by the cross, went home and rested during the sabbath (23:56); and Mark adds that after the sabbath was ended, that is, after sunset, and during the evening, they prepared spices in order to go and embalm our Lord's body. They were either not aware of the previous embalming by Joseph and Nicodemus; or else they also wished to testify their respect and affection to their Lord, by completing, more perfectly, what before had been done in haste; John 19:40-42. It is in just this portion of the history, which relates to the visit of the women to the tomb and the appearance of Jesus to them, that most of the alleged difficulties and discrepancies in this part of the Gospel narratives are found. We will therefore take up the chief of them in their order.
I. The Time. All the Evangelists agree in saying that the women went out very early to the sepulchre. Matthew's expression is, as the day was dawning. Mark's words are, very early: which indeed are less definite, but are appropriate to denote the same point of time. Luke has the more poetic term: deep morning, i.e. early dawn. John's language is likewise definite: early, while it was yet dark. All these expressions go to fix the time at what we call early dawn, or early twilight; after the break of day, but while the light is yet struggling with darkness.
Thus far there is no difficulty; and none would ever arise, had not Mark added the phrase, the sun being risen; or, as the English version has it, at the rising of the sun. These words seem, at first, to be at direct variance both with the very early of Mark himself, and with the language of the other Evangelists. To harmonize this apparent discrepancy, we may premise, that since Mark himself first specifies the point of time by a phrase sufficiently definite in itself, and supported by all the other Evangelists, we must conclude that when he adds, at the rising of the sun, he did not mean to contradict himself, but used this latter phrase in a broader and less definite sense. As the sun is the source of light and of the day, and as his earliest rays produce the contrast between darkness and light, between night and dawn, so the term sunrising might easily come in popular language, by a metonymy of cause for effect, to be put for all that earlier interval, when his rays, still struggling with darkness, do nevertheless usher in the day. Accordingly, we find such a popular usage prevailing among the Hebrews; and several instances of it occur in the Old Testament. Thus in Judg. 9: 33, the message of Zebul to Abimelech, after directing him to lie in wait with his people in the field during the night, goes on as follows:
“ and it shall be, in the morning, as soon as the sun is up thou shalt rise early and set upon the city;” yet we cannot for a moment suppose that Abimilech with his ambuscade was to wait until the sun actually appeared above the horizon, before he made his onset. So the Psalmist (104:22), speaking of the young lions that by night roar after their prey, goes on to say: “The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.” But wild animals do not wait for the actual appearance of the sun ere they shrink away to their lairs; the break of day, the dawning light, is the signal for their retreat. See also Sept. 2 Kings 3:22. 2 Sam. 23:4. In all these passages the language is entirely parallel to that of Mark; and they serve fully to illustrate the principle, that the rising of the sun is here used in a popular sense as equivalent to the rising of the day or early dawn.
II. The Number of the Women. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and the
other Mary; v. 1. Mark enumerates Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and
Salome; v. 1. Luke has Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and
others with them; v. 10. John speaks of Mary Magdalene alone, and says nothing
of any other. The first three Evangelists accord then in respect to the two
Marys, but no further; while John differs from them all. Is there here a real
We may at once answer, No; because, according to the sound canon of Le Clerc: * “ Qui plura narrat, pauciocra complectitur; qui pauciora memorat, plura nzon negat.” Because John, in narrating circumstances with which he was personally connected, sees fit to mention only Mary Magdalene, it does not at all follow that others were not present. Because Matthew, perhaps for like reasons, speaks only of the two Marys, he by no means excludes the presence of others. Indeed, the very words which John puts into the mouth of Mary Magdalene, (v. 2), presupposes the fact that others had gone with her to the sepulchre. That there was something in respect to Mary Magdalene, which gave her a peculiar prominence in these transactions, may be inferred from the fact, that not only John mentions her alone, but likewise all the other Evangelists name her first, as if holding the most conspicuous place.
The instance here under consideration is parallel to that of the demoniacs of Gadara, and the blind men at Jericho; where, in both cases, Matthew speaks of two persons, while Mark and Luke mention only one.** Something peculiar in the station or character of one of the persons, rendered him in each case more prominent, and led the two latter Evangelists to speak of him particularly. But there, as here, their language is not exclusive; nor is there in it anything that contradicts the statements of Matthew.
* Harmony of the
Gospels, p. 525.
** Matthew 8:28. Mark 5:2. Luke 8:27. Matthew 20:30. Mark 10:46. Luke 18:35.
III. The Arrival at the Sepulchre. According to Mark, Luke, and John, the women on reaching the sepulchre found the great stone, with which it had been closed, already rolled away. Matthew, on the other hand, after narrating that the women went out to see the sepulchre, proceeds to mention the earthquake, the descent of the angel, his rolling away the stone and sitting upon it, and the terror of the watch, as if all these things took place in the presence of the women. The angel too (in v. 5) addresses the women, as if still sitting upon the stone he had rolled away. The apparent discrepancy, if any, here arises simply from Matthew's brevity in omitting to state in full what his narrative presupposes. According to v. 6, Christ was already risen; and therefore the earthquake and its accompaniments must have taken place at an earlier point of time, to which the sacred writer returns back in his narration. And although Matthew does not represent the women as entering the sepulchre, yet in v. 8, he speaks of them as going out of it; so that of course their interview with the angel took place, not outside of the sepulchre, but in it, as narrated by the other Evangelists. When therefore.the angel says to them in v. 6, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” this is not said without the tomb to induce them to enter, as Strauss avers; but within the sepulchre, just as in Mark v. 6.
§ 161. Vision of angels in the Sepulchre.
(FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.)
5And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
5And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen;
4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
6He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen
from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into
he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into
is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in
7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
8And they remembered his words,
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, p. 540.
IV. The Vision of Angels in the Sepulchre.
Of this John says nothing. Matthew and Mark speak of one
angel; Luke of two. Mark says he was sitting; Luke speaks of them as
standing. This difference in respect to numbers is parallel to the case of the
women, which we have just considered; and requires therefore no further
There is likewise some diversity in the language addressed to the women by the angels. In Matthew and Mark, the prominent object is the charge to the disciples to depart into
§ 162. The women return to the
city. Jesus meets them. (FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.)
8And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
9And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into
8And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
10It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.
11And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.
§ 3. The return of the Women to the
city, and the first appearance of our Lord.
Matt. 28: 7-10. Mark 16: 8. Luke 24: 9-11. John 20: 1, 2.
John, speaking of Mary Magdalene alone, says that having seen that the stone was taken away from the sepulchre, she went in haste (ran) to tell Peter and John. He says nothing of her having seen the angels, nor of her having entered the sepulchre at all. The other Evangelists, speaking of the women generally, relate that they entered the tomb, saw the angels and then entered into the city. On their way Jesus meets them. They recognize him; fall at and embrace his feet; and receive his charge to the disciples. Was Mary Magdalene now with the other women? Or did she enter the city by another way? Or had she left the sepulchre before the rest?
It is evident that Mary Magdalene was not with the other women when Jesus thus met them. Her language to Peter and John forbids the supposition, that she had already seen the Lord: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” She therefore must have entered the city by another path and gate; or else have left the sepulchre before the rest; or possibly both these positions may be true. She bore her tidings expressly to Peter and John, who would seem to have lodged by themselves in a different quarter of the city; while the other women went apparently to the rest of the disciples. But this supposition of a different route is essential, only in connection with the view, that she left the tomb with the other women. That, however, she actually departed from the sepulchre before her companions, would seem most probable; inasmuch as she speaks to Peter and John only of the absence of the Lord's body; says nothing in this connection of a vision of angels; and when, after returning again to the tomb, she sees the angels, it is evidently for the first time; and she repeats to them as the cause of her grief her complaint as to the disappearance of the body; John 20: 12,13. She may have turned back from the tomb without entering it at all, so soon as she saw that it was open; inferring from the removal of the stone, that the sepulcher had been rifled. Or, she may first have entered with the rest, when, according to Luke, “they found not the body of the Lord Jesus,” and “were much perplexed thereabout,” before the angels became visible to them. The latter supposition seems best to meet the exigences of the case.
“As the other women went to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came, and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said unto them, Be not afraid; go, tell my brethren, that they go into
This appearance and interview is narrated only by Matthew; none of the other Evangelists give any hint of it. Matthew here stops short. Mark simply relates that the women fled from the tomb; “neither said they anything to any one, for they were afraid.” This of course can only mean, that they spoke of what they had thus seen to no one while on their way to the city; for the very charge of the angels, which they went to fulfil, was, that they should “ go their way and tell his disciples; “ v. 7. Luke narrates more fully, that “they returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven; and to all the rest. —And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” We may perhaps see in this language one reason why the other Evangelists have omitted to mention this appearance of our Lord. The disciples disbelieved the report of the women, that they had seen Jesus. In like manner they afterwards disbelieved the report of Mary Magdalene to the same effect; Mark 16:11. They were ready, it would seem, to admit the testimony of the women to the absence of the body, and to the vision of angels; but not to the resurrection of Jesus and his appearance to them; Luke 24:21-24. And afterwards, when the eleven had become convinced by the testimony of their own senses, those first two appearances to the women became of less importance and were less regarded. Hence the silence of three Evangelists as to the one; of two as to the other; and of Paul as to both; 1 Cor. 15:5, 6.
§ 163. Peter and John run to the
Sepulchre. (FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.)
12Then arose Peter,
3Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
8Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
9For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 541-542.
§ 4. Peter and John visit the Sepulchre. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene.
John 20:3 -18. Luke 24:12. Mark 16:9-11.
The full account of these two events is given solely by John. Matthew has not a
word of either; Luke merely mentions, in general, that Peter, on the report of
the women, went to the sepulchre; while Mark speaks only of our Lord's
appearance to Mary Magdalene, which he seems to represent as his first
According to John's account, Peter and the beloved disciple, excited by the tidings of Mary Magdalene that the Lord's body had been taken away, hasten to the sepulchre. They run; John outruns Peter, comes first to the tomb, and stooping down, sees the grave-clothes lying, but he does not enter. The other women are no longer at the tomb; nor have the disciples met them on the way. Peter now comes up; he enters the tomb, and sees the grave clothes lying, and the napkin that was about his head not lying with the rest, but wrapped together in a place by itself. John too now enters the sepulchre; “and he saw and believed.”
What was it that John thus believed? The mere report of Mary Magdalene, that the body had been removed? So much he must have believed when he stooped down and looked into the sepulchre. For this, there was no need that he should enter the tomb. His belief must have been of something more and greater. The grave-clothes lying orderly in their place, and the napkin folded together by itself, made it evident that the sepulchre had not been rifled nor the body stolen by violent hands; for these garments and spices would have been of more value to thieves, than merely a naked corpse; at least, they would not have taken the trouble thus to fold them together. The same circumstances showed also that the body had not been removed by friends; for they would not thus have left the grave-clothes behind. All these considerations produce in the mind of John the germ of a belief that Jesus was risen from the dead. He believed because he saw; “for as yet they knew not the Scripture;” (v. 9). He now began more fully to recall and understand our Lord's repeated declaration that he was to rise again on the third day; * a declaration on which the Jews had already acted in setting a watch. ** In this way, the difficulty which is sometimes urged of an apparent want of connection between verses 8 and 9, disappears.
* Matthew 16:21, 17:23. Luke 9:22. 24:6, 7. al.
** Matthew 28:63 sq.
The two disciples went their way, “wondering in themselves at what was come to pass.” Mary Magdalene, who had followed them back to the sepulchre, remained before it weeping. While she thus wept, she too, like John, stooped clown and looked in, “and seeth two angels, in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” To their inquiry why she wept, her reply was the same report which she had before borne to the two disciples: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him,” v. 13. Of the angels we learn nothing further. The whole character of this representation seems to show clearly, that Mary had not before seen the angels; and also that she had not before been told, that Jesus was risen. We must otherwise regard her as having been in a most unaccountably obtuse and unbelieving frame of mind; the very contrary of which seems to have been the fact. If also she had before informed the two disciples of a vision of angels and of Christ's resurrection, it is difficult to see, why John should omit to mention this circumstance, so important and so personal to himself.
After replying to the angels, Mary turns herself about, and sees a person standing near, whom, from his being present there, she takes to be the keeper of the garden. He too inquires, why she weeps. Her reply is the same as before; except that she, not unnaturally, supposes him to have been engaged in removing the body, which she desires to recover. He simply utters in reply, in well-known tones, the name Mary! and the whole truth flashes upon her soul; doubt is dispelled, and faith triumphs. She exclaims: “Rabboni!” as much as to say, “My dearest Master!” and apparently, like the other women, * falls at his feet in order to embrace and worship him. This Jesus forbids her to do, in these remarkable words: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God;” v. 17.
* Matthew 28:9.
There remains to be considered the circumstance, that Mark, in v. 9, seems to represent this appearance of Jesus at the sepulchre to Mary Magdalene, as his first appearance: “Now, being risen early the first of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” In attempting to harmonize this with Matthew's account of our Lord's appearance to the other women on their return from the sepulchre, several methods have been adopted; but the most to the purpose is the view which regards the word first, Mark v. 9, as put not absolutely, but relatively. That is to say, Mark narrates three, and only three, appearances of our Lord; of these three, that to Mary Magdalene takes place first, and that to the assembled disciples the same evening occurs last, v. 14. A similar example occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, where Paul enumerates those to whom the Lord showed himself after his resurrection, viz. to Peter, to the twelve, to five hundred brethren, to James, to all the apostles, and last of all to Paul also. Now had Paul written here, as with strict propriety he might have done, “he was seen first of Cephas,” assuredly no one would ever have understood him as intending to assert that the appearance to Peter was the first absolutely; that is, as implying that Jesus was seen of Peter before he appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women. In like manner when John declares (21:14) that Jesus showed himself to his disciples by the lake of Galilee for the third time after he was risen from the dead; this is said relatively to the two previous appearances to the assembled apostles; and does by no means exclude the four still earlier appearances, viz. to Peter, to the two at Emmaus, to Mary Magdalene, and to the other women, —one of which John himself relates in full.
In this way the old difficulty in the case before us disappears; and the complex and cumbrous machinery of earlier commentators becomes superfluous.
After her interview with Jesus, Mary Magdalene returns to the city, and tells the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things unto her. According to Mark (vs. 10, 11), the disciples were “mourning and weeping;” and when they heard that Jesus was alive and had been seen of her, they believed not.
§ 164. Our Lord is seen by Mary
Magdalene at the Sepulchre. (FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.)
9Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
11But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him.
14And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
10And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
18Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
§ 165. Report of the watch.
(SIXTH DAY OF THE WEEK.)
11Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
12And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
13Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
14And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
15So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
§ 166. Our Lord is seen of Peter; then by two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK.) Emmaus.
12After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was
14And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
15And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.
16But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.
17And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou
only a stranger in
19And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:
20And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.
we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed
22Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;
23And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.
24And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.
25Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
26Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
27And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
28And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.
29But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
30And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
31And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
they rose up the same hour, and returned to
34Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
13And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
[Luke 24:34, appeared unto Simon.] This appearance of Jesus is not alluded to by any other Evangelist; but it was a fact well known among the disciples, and is expressly stated by Paul, in 1 Cor.15: 5, — “and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.”
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 543-545.
§ 5. Jesus appears to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Also to Peter.
Luke 24:13-35. Mark 16:12, 13. 1 Corinthians 15:5.
This appearance on the way to Emmaus is related in full only by Luke.
Mark merely notes the fact; while the other two Evangelists and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5) make no mention of it.
On the afternoon of the same day on which our Lord arose, two of his disciples, one of them named Cleopas, were on their way on foot to a village called Emmaus, sixty stadia or seven and a half Roman miles distant from Jerusalem, —a walk of some two or two and a half hours. They had heard and credited the tidings brought by the women, and also by Peter and John, that the sepulchre was open and empty; and that the women had also seen a vision of angels, who said that Jesus was alive. They had most probably likewise heard the reports of Mary Magalene and the other women, that Jesus himself had appeared to them: but these they did not regard, and do not mention them (v. 24); because they, like the other disciples, had looked upon them “as idle tales, and they believed them not;” v. 11. As they went they were sad, and talked together of all these things which had happened. After some time Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But they knew him not. Mark says he was in another form; Luke affirms that “their eyes were holden, that they should not know him;” v. 16. Was there in this anything miraculous? The “another form”of Mark, Doddridge [Family Expositor, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613, 616] explains by “a different habit from what he ordinarily wore.” His garments, of course, were not his former ones; and this was probably one reason why Mary Magdalene had before taken him for the keeper of the garden.* It may be, too, that these two disciples had not been intimately acquainted with the Lord. He had arrived at
* See also John 21: 4.
Jesus inquires the cause of their sadness; chides them for their slowness of heart to believe what the prophets had spoken; and then proceeds to expound unto them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” They feel the power of his words; and their hearts burn within them. By this time they drew nigh to the village whither they went; it was toward evening, and the day was far spent. Their journey was ended; and Jesus was about to depart from them. In accordance with oriental hospitality they constrained him to remain with them. He consents; and as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave unto them. At this time, and in connection with this act, their eyes were opened; they knew him; and he vanished away from them. Here too the question is raised, whether the language necessarily implies anything miraculous? Our English translators have rendered this passage in the margin, “he ceased to be seen of them; “and have referred to Luke 4:30, and John 8:59, as illustrating this idea. They might also have referred to Acts 8:39. Still, the language is doubtless such as the sacred writers would most naturally have employed in order directly to express the idea of supernatural agency.
Full of wonder and joy, the two disciples set off the same hour to return to
This appearance to Peter is mentioned by no other Evangelist; and we know nothing of the particular time, nor of the attending circumstances. It would seem to have taken place either not long before, or else shortly after, that to the two disciples. It had not happened when they left
Paul, in enumerating those by whom the Lord was seen after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5), mentions Peter first; passing over the appearances to the women, and also that to the two disciples; probably because they did not belong among the apostles.
§ 167. Jesus appears in the midst of
the Apostles, Thomas being absent. (EVENING FOLLOWING THE FIRST DAY OF
14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
36And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
19Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43And he took it, and did eat before them.
20And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.
15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
44And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
45Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
46And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among
all nations, beginning at
48And ye are witnesses of these things.
behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of
21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
[Mark 16:14, unto the eleven.] This appearance of Jesus is also affirmed by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:5.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 545-546.
§6. Jesus appears to
the Apostles in the absence of Thomas; and afterwards when Thomas is present.
Mark 16:14-13. Luke 24:36-48. John 20:19-29. 1 Corinthians 15:5.
The narrative of our Lord's first appearance to the apostles
is most fully given by Luke: John adds a few circumstances; and Mark, as well
as Luke, has preserved the first charge thus privately given to the apostles,
to preach the Gospel in all the world, —a charge afterwards repeated in a more
public and solemn manner on the mountain in
According to Mark, the disciples were at their evening meal; which implies a not very late hour... John says the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. While the two who had returned from Emmaus were still recounting what had happened unto them, Jesus himself “came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you! “The question here again is raised, whether this entrance of our Lord was miraculous? That it might have been so, there is no reason to doubt. He who in the days of his flesh walked upon the waters, and before whose angel the iron gate of the prison opened of its own accord so that Peter might pass out;* he who was himself just risen from the dead; might well in some miraculous way present himself to his followers in spite of bolts and bars. But does the language here necessarily imply a miracle? The doors indeed were shut; but the word used does not of itself signify that they were bolted or fastened. The object no doubt was, to prevent access to spies from the Jews; or also to guard themselves from the danger of being arrested; and both these objects might perhaps have been as effectually accomplished by a watch at or before the door. Nor do the words used of our Lord strictly indicate anything miraculous. We do not find here a form of the word commonly employed to express the sudden appearance of angels; but, “he came and stood in the midst of them;” implying per se nothing more than the ordinary mode of approach. There is, in fact, nothing in the whole account to suggest a miracle, except the remark of John respecting the doors; and as this circumstance is not mentioned either by Mark or Luke, it may be doubtful whether we are necessarily compelled by the language to regard the mode of our Lord's entrance as miraculous.
At this interview Thomas was not present.
§ 168. Jesus appears in the midst of
the Apostles, Thomas being present. (EVENING FOLLOWING THE FIRST DAY OF
THE WEEK AFTER RESURRECTION.)
24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.
29Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, p. 546.
On his return the other disciples relate to him the circumstances. But Thomas now disbelieved the others; as they before had disbelieved the women. His reply was, “except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Our Lord had compassion upon his perverseness. Eight days afterwards, when the disciples were again assembled and Thomas with them, our Lord came as before, and stood. in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you! He permits to Thomas the test he had demanded; and charges him to be not faithless, but believing. Thomas, convinced and abashed, exclaims in the fullness of faith and joy, My Lord and my God! recognizing and acknowledging thereby the divine nature thus manifested in the flesh. The reply of our Lord to Thomas is strikingly impressive and condemnatory of his want of faith: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that; have not seen, and yet have believed!” He and the other disciples, who were to be the heralds of the Lord's resurrection to the world as the foundation of the hope of the Gospel, refused to believe except upon the evidence of their own senses; while all who after them have borne the Christian Name, have believed this great fact of the Gospel solely upon their testimony. God has overruled their unbelief for good, in making it a powerful argument for the truth of their testimony in behalf of this great fact, which they themselves were so slow to believe. Blessed, indeed, are they who have received their testimony.
§ 169. The Apostles go away into
the eleven disciples went away into
these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the
were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana
3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
6And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
11Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
14This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
15So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
18Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
19This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
20Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
21Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
22Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
23Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
24This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 546-547.
§ 7. Our Lord's
John 21:1-24. Matthew 28:16-20. 1 Corinthians 15:6.
It appears from the narrative of Matthew, that while the disciples were yet in Jerusalem, our Lord had appointed a time, when he would meet them in Galilee, upon a certain mountain.* They therefore left Jerusalem after the passover, probably soon after the interview at which Thomas was present, and returned to Galilee, their home. While waiting for the appointed time, they engaged in their usual occupation of fishermen. On a certain day, as John relates, towards the evening, seven of them being together, including Peter, Thomas, and the sons of Zebedee, they put out upon the lake with their nets in a fishing boat; but during the whole night they caught nothing. At early dawn Jesus stood upon the shore, from which they were not far off, and directed them to cast the net upon the right side of the boat. “They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of the fishes.” Recognizing in this miracle their risen Lord, they pressed around him. Peter, with his characteristic ardour, threw himself into the water in order to reach him the sooner. At their Lord's command they prepared a meal from the fish they had thus taken. “Jesus then cometh and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.” This was his third appearance to the eleven; or rather to a large number of them together. It was on this occasion, and after their meal, that our Lord put to Peter the touching and thrice repeated question, “Lovest thou me?”
* See Matthew 26: 32.
At length the set time arrived; and the eleven disciples went away into the mountain “where Jesus had appointed them.” It would seem most probable, that this time and place had been appointed of our Lord for a solemn and more public interview, not only with the eleven, whom he had already met, but with all his disciples in Galilee; and that therefore it was on this same occasion, when, according to Paul, “He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once.”* That the interview was not confined to the eleven alone, would seem evident from the fact that “some doubted;” for this could hardly be supposed true of any of the eleven, after what had already happened to them in Jerusalem and Galilee, and after having been appointed to meet their risen Lord at this very time and place. The appearance of the five hundred must at any rate be referred to Galilee; for even after our Lord's ascension, the number of the names in
* 1 Corinthians 15:6.
** Acts 1:1.5.
§ 170. Jesus meets the Apostles and
above five hundred brethren on a mountain in
16 into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
[Matthew 28:17, they saw him.] Many and perhaps most Harmonists and Commentators refer 1 Corinthians 15:6, to this place, where it is related that Jesus was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. Such is the opinion of Dr. Robinson and Bishop J. B. Sumner, and such seems to have been the opinion of Abp. Newcome, Dr. Macknight, and Dr. Pilkington. See NEWCOME, in loc. [See Appendix 4 for references.] The fact is deemed by some to have an important bearing upon the extent of the commission then given or repeated by our Lord; but the plan of this work does not require any further notice of the question.
§ 171. Our Lord is seen of James; then of
all the Apostles.
§ 171. The title of this section is inserted, for the sake of preserving the system of arrangement which has been followed in this Harmony; but as the appearances of Jesus which are here referred to, are related only by Luke in Acts 1:3-8, and by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:7, the particular insertion of those passages is omitted, for the reasons already given. See § 137, note.
§ 137 note, pp. 428-429.
[Matt. 26: 26-29, &c.] This account of the institution of the Lord's Supper is corroborated by that of Paul, in 1 Cor. 11: 23-25, which is usually inserted by Harmonists in this place as parallel testimony; but as the plan of this work leads me to deal with the four Gospels alone, the insertion of other parts of Scripture in the text, here and elsewhere, is omitted.
The subject of this and the eleven preceding sections, respecting the resurrection of Jesus, is discussed in the note on the Resurrection.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 547-548.
§ 8. Our Lord's
further Appearances at
1 Cor. 15: 7. Acts 1: 3-12. Luke 24: 49-53. Mark 16: 19, 20.
Luke relates, in Acts 1:3, that Jesus showed himself alive to his apostles, “after
his passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and
speaking of the things pertaining to the
This would seem to imply interviews and communications, as to which we have little more than this very general notice. One of these may have been the appearance to James, mentioned by Paul alone (1 Cor. 15:7), as subsequent to that to the five hundred brethren. It may be referred with most probability to
*See Acts 12:17. 15:13. 21:18. Galatians 2:9, 12 al.
** Acts 12:1
After thus appearing to James, our Lord, according to Paul, was seen “of all
the apostles.” This, too, was apparently an appointed meeting; and was
doubtless the same of which Luke speaks, as occurring in
immediately preceding the ascension.
§ 173. Conclusion of John’s Gospel
30And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
31But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
25And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
§ 172. The Ascension.
1The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
2Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
3To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
he led them out as far as to
being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not
5For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou
at this time restore again the kingdom to
7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye
shall be witnesses unto me both in
19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
51And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
9And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
10And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
also said, Ye men of
they worshipped him, and returned to
53And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
returned they unto
13And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.
14These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
NOTE ON THE RESURRECTION, pp. 548-549.
§ 8. Our Lord's
further Appearances at
1 Corinthians 15:7. Acts 1:3-12. Luke 24:49-53. Mark 16:19, 20.
After thus appearing to James, our Lord, according to Paul, was seen “of all
the apostles.” This, too, was apparently an appointed meeting; and was
doubtless the same of which Luke speaks, as occurring in
* To this interview belongs also Luke 24: 44.
During this discourse, or in immediate connection with it, our Lord leads them out as far as to
As these disciples stood gazing and wondering, while a cloud received their Lord out of their sight, two angels stood by them in white apparel, announcing unto them, that this same Jesus, who was thus taken up from them into heaven, shall again so come, in like manner as they had seen him go into heaven. With this annunciation closes the written history of our Lord's resurrection and ascension.
Simon Greenleaf on the alleged discrepancies of the narratives, with application of the Rules of Evidence as Administered in a Court of Law, excerpted from Testimony of the Evangelists:
The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty, secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. *
* 1 Starkie On Evidence, pp. 480, 545.
§ 34. In the third place, as to their number and the consistency of their testimony. The character of their narratives is like that of all other true witnesses, containing, as Dr. [William] Paley observes, substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred. That they conspired to impose falsehood upon the world is, moreover, utterly inconsistent with the supposition that they were honest men; a fact, to the proofs of which we have already adverted. But, if they were bad men, still the idea of any conspiracy among them is negatived [sic], not only by the discrepancies alluded to, but by many other circumstances which will be mentioned hereafter; from all which, it is manifest that if they concerted a false story, they sought its accomplishment by a mode quite the opposite to that which all others are found to pursue, to attain the same end. On this point the profound remark of an eminent writer is to our purpose; that ‘in a number of concurrent testimonies, where there has been no previous concert, there is a probability distinct from that which may be termed the sum of the probabilities resulting from the testimonies of the witnesses; a probability which would remain, even though the witnesses were of such a character as to merit no faith at all. This probability arises from the concurrence itself. That such a concurrence should spring from chance, is as one to infinite; that is, in other words, morally impossible. If therefore concert be excluded, there remains no cause but the reality of the fact.” *
§ 35. The discrepancies between the narratives of the several evangelists, when carefully examined, will not be found sufficient to invalidate their testimony. Many seeming contradictions will prove, upon closer scrutiny, to be in substantial agreement; and it may be confidently asserted that there are none that will not yield, under fair and just criticism. If these different accounts of the same transactions were in strict verbal conformity with each other, the argument against their credibility would be much stronger. All that is asked for these witnesses is, that their testimony may be regarded as we regard the testimony of men in the ordinary affairs of life. This they are justly entitled to; and this no honorable adversary can refuse. We might, indeed, take higher ground than this, and confidently claim for them the severest scrutiny; but our present purpose is merely to try their veracity by the ordinary tests of truth, admitted in human tribunals.
§ 36. If the evidence of the evangelists is to be rejected
because of a few discrepancies among them, we shall be obliged to discard that
of many of the contemporaneous histories on which we are accustomed to rely.
Dr. Paley has noticed the contradiction between Lord Clarendon and Burnett and
others in regard to Lord Strafford's execution; the former stating that he was
condemned to be hanged, which was done on the same day; and the latter all
relating that on a Saturday he was sentenced to the block, and was beheaded on
the following Monday. Another striking instance of discrepancy has since
occurred, in the narratives of the different members of the royal family of
*See the Quarterly Review, vol. xxviii. p. 465. These
narrators were, the Duchess D'Angouleme herself, the two Messrs. De Bouille,
the Duc DeChoiseul, his servant, James Brissac, Messrs. De Damas and Deslons,
two of the officers commanding detachments on the road, Messrs. De Mioustier
and Valori, the garde du corps who accompanied the king, and finally M. de.
Fontanges, archbishop of
Yet these contradictions do not, in the general public estimation, detract from the integrity of the narrators, nor from the credibility of their relations. In the points in which they agree, and which constitute the great body of their narratives, their testimony is of course not doubted; where they differ, we reconcile them as well as we may; and where this cannot be done at all, we follow that light which seems to us the clearest. Upon the principles of the sceptic, we should be bound utterly to disbelieve them all. On the contrary, we apply to such cases the rules which, in daily experience, our judges instruct juries to apply, in weighing and reconciling the testimony of different witnesses; and which the courts themselves observe, in comparing and reconciling different and sometimes discordant reports of the same decisions. This, remark applies especially to some alleged discrepancies in the reports which the several evangelists have given of the same discourses of our Lord.*
* Far greater discrepancies can be found in the different reports of the same case, given by the reporters of legal judgments than are shown among the evangelists; and yet we do not consider them as detracting from the credit of the reporters, to whom we still resort with confidence, as to good authority. Some of these discrepancies seem utterly irreconcilable. Thus, in a case, 45 Edw. III. 19, where the question was upon a gift of lands to J. (le C. with Joan, the sister of the donor, and to their heirs, Fitzherbert (tit. Tail, 14) says it was adjudged fee simple, and not frankmarriage; Statham (tit. Tail) says it was adjudged a gift in frankmarriage; while Brook (tit. Frankmarriage) says it was not decided. Vid. 10
§ 43. It should be remembered, that very little of the literature of their times and country has come down to us; and that the collateral sources and means of corroborating and explaining their writings are proportionally limited. The contemporary writings and works of art which have reached us, have invariably been found to confirm their accounts, to reconcile what was apparently contradictory, and supply what seemed defective or imperfect. We ought therefore to conclude, that if we had more of the same light, all other similar difficulties and imperfections would vanish. Indeed they have been gradually vanishing, and rapidly too, before the light of modern research, conducted by men of science in our own times. And it is worthy of remark, that of all the investigations and discoveries of travelers and men of letters, since the overthrow of the Roman empire, not a vestige of antiquity has been found, impeaching, in the slightest degree, the credibility of the sacred writers; but, on the contrary, every result has tended to confirm it.
§ 44. The essential marks of difference between true
narratives of facts and the creations of fiction, have already been adverted
to. It may here be added that these attributes of truth are strikingly apparent
throughout the gospel histories, and that the absence of all the others is
equally remarkable. The writers allude, for example, to the existing manners
and customs, and to the circumstances of the times and of their country, with
the utmost minuteness of reference. And these references are never formally
made, nor with preface and explanation, never multiplied and heaped on each
other, nor brought together, as though introduced by design; but they are
scattered broad-cast and singly over every part of the story, and so connect
themselves with every incident related, as to render the detection of falsehood
inevitable. This minuteness, too, is not peculiar to any one of the historians,
but is common to them all. Though they wrote at different periods and without
mutual concert, they all alike refer incidentally to the same state of affairs, and to the same contemporary and collateral circumstances. Their testimony, in this view, stands on the same ground with that of four witnesses, separately examined before different commissioners, upon the same interrogatories, and all adverting incidentally to the same circumstances as surrounding and accompanying the principal transaction, to which alone their attention is directed. And it is worthy of observation that these circumstances were at that time of a peculiar character. Hardly a state or kingdom in the world ever experienced so many vicissitudes in its government and political relations, as did
* See Chalmers’ Evidence, Chapter 3.
§45. “Had the evangelists been false historians,” says Dr.
Chalmers, “they would not have committed themselves upon so many particulars.
They would not have furnished the vigilant inquirers of that period with such
an effectual instrument for bringing them into discredit with the people; nor
foolishly supplied, in every page of their narrative, so many materials for a
cross-examination, which would infallibly have disgraced them. Now, we of this
age can institute the same cross-examination. We can compare the evangelical
writers with contemporary authors, and verify a number of circumstances in the
history, and government, and peculiar economy of the Jewish people. We
therefore have it in our power to institute a cross-examination upon the
writers of the New Testament; and the freedom and frequency of their allusions
to these circumstances supply us with ample materials for it. The fact, that
they are borne out in their minute and incidental allusions by the testimony of
other historians, gives a strong weight of what has been called circumstantial
evidence in their favor. As a specimen of the argument, let us confine our
observations to the history of our Saviour's trial, and execution, and burial.
They brought him to Pontius Pilate. We know both from Tacitus and Josephus,
that he was at that time governor of
* See Chalmers’ Evidence, pp. 76-78, Amer. ed. Proofs of this kind are copiously referred to by Mr. Horne, in his introduction, &c. vol. i., ch. 3, sect. II. 2.
Dr. William Paley. “A Brief Consideration of Some Popular Objections. Chapter I: The Discrepancies Between the Several Gospels,” from Evidence of Christianity, 1851 edition, available as a Project Gutenberg book at http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=165251 and at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/paley/evidence.html
I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action; the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statute, in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed time; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death, in the reign of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrew, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was beheaded; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday. (See Biog. Britann.) Was any reader of English history ever sceptic enough to raise from hence a question whether the Marquis of Argyle was executed or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian history has sometimes been attacked. Dr. Middleton contended, that the different hours of the day assigned to the crucifixion of Christ, by John and by the other Evangelists, did not admit of the reconcilement which learned men had proposed: and then concludes the discussion with this hard remark; “We must be forced, with several of the critics, to leave the difficulty just as we found it, chargeable with all the consequences of manifest inconsistency.” (Middleton's Reflections [here] answered by Benson, History of the Christian Religion, vol. 3. p. 50.) But what are these consequences? By no means the discrediting of the history as to the principal fact, by a repugnancy (even supposing that repugnancy not to be resolvable into different modes of computation) in the time of the day in which it is said to have taken place.
A great deal of the discrepancy observable in the Gospels
arises from omission; from a fact or a passage of Christ's life being noticed
by one writer which is unnoticed by another. Now, omission is at all times a
very uncertain ground of objection. We perceive it, not only in the comparison
of different writers, but even in the same writer when compared with himself.
There are a great many particulars, and some of them of importance, mentioned
by Josephus in his Antiquities, which, as we should have supposed, ought to
have been put down by him in their place in the Jewish Wars. (Lardner, part i.
vol. ii. p. 735, et seq.) Suetonius, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, have, all three,
written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has mentioned many things omitted by the
rest, (Lardner, part i. vol. ii. p. 743.) yet no objection is from thence taken
to the respective credit of their histories. We have in our own times, if there
were not something indecorous in the comparison, the life of an eminent person
written by three of his friends, in which there is very great variety in the
incidents selected by them; some apparent, and perhaps some real
contradictions; yet without any impeachment of the substantial truth of their
accounts, of the authenticity of the books, of the competent information or
general fidelity of the writers.
But these discrepancies will be still more numerous, when
men do not write histories, but memoirs: which is, perhaps, the true name and
proper description of our Gospels: that is, when they do not undertake, nor
ever meant to deliver, in order of time, a regular and complete account of all
the things of importance which the person who is the subject of their history
did or said; but only, out of many similar ones, to give such passages, or such
actions and discourses, as offered themselves more immediately to their
attention, came in the way of their inquiries, occurred to their recollection,
or were suggested by their particular design at the time of writing.
This particular design may appear sometimes, but not always, nor often. Thus I think that the particular design which Saint Matthew had in view whilst he was writing the history of the resurrection was to attest the faithful performance of Christ's promise to his disciples to go before them into Galilee; because he alone, except Mark, who seems to have taken it from him, has recorded this promise, and he alone has confined his narrative to that single appearance to the disciples which fulfilled it. It was the preconcerted, the great and most public manifestation of our Lord's person. It was the thing which dwelt upon Saint Matthew's mind, and he adapted his narrative to it. But, that there is nothing in Saint Matthew's language which negatives other appearances, or which imports that this his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, in pursuance of his promise, was his first or only appearance, is made pretty evident by Saint Mark's Gospel, which uses the same terms concerning the appearance in Galilee as Saint Matthew uses, yet itself records two other appearances prior to this: “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him as he said unto you” (xvi. 7). We might be apt to infer from these words, that this was the first time they were to see him; at least, we might infer it, with as much reason as we draw the inference from the same words in Matthew: the historian himself did not perceive that he was leading his readers to any such conclusion; for, in the twelfth and following verses of this chapter, he informs us of two appearances, which, by comparing the order of events, are shown to have been prior to the appearance in Galilee. “He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country; and they went and told it unto the residue, neither believed they them: afterwards he appeared unto the eleven, as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen.”
Probably the same observation, concerning the particular design which guided the historian, may be of use in comparing many other passages of the Gospels.
Walter M. Chandler. The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer’s
Standpoint, Vol. 1.
In considering the subject of discrepancies it should be constantly kept in mind that contradictions in testimony do not necessarily mean that there has been falsehood or by faith on the part of the witnesses. Every lawyer of experience and every adult citizen of average intelligence knows that this is true. Men of unquestioned veracity and incorruptible integrity are frequently arrayed against each other in both civil and criminal trials, and the record reveals irreconcilable contradictions in their testimony. Not only do prosecutions for perjury not follow, but, in many instances, the witnesses are not even suspected of bad faith or an intention to falsify. Defects in sight, hearing, or memory; superior advantage in the matter of observation; or a sudden change in the position of one or both the parties, causing distraction of attention, at the time of the occurrence of the events involved in litigation – all or any of these conditions, as well as many others, may create discrepancies and contradictions where there is a total absence of any intention to misrepresent. A thorough appreciation of this fact will greatly aid in a clear understanding of this phase of the discussion.
investigation of the charge of discrepancy against the Gospel writers shows
that the critics and skeptics have classified mere omissions as contradictions.
Noting could be more absurd than to consider an omission a contradiction,
unless the requirements of the case show that the facts and circumstances
omitted were essential to be stated, or that the omission was evidently
intended to mislead or deceive. Any
other contention would turn historical literature topsy-turvy and load it down
with contradictions. Dion Cassius,
Tacitus, and Suetonius have all written elaborately of the reign of
Tiberius. Many things are mentioned by
each that are not recorded by the other two.
Are we to reject all three as unreliable historians because of this
fact? Abbott, Hazlitt, Bourrienne, and
Walter Scott have written biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte. No one of them has recited all the facts
recorded by the others. Are these
omissions to destroy the merits of all these writers and cause them to be
suspected and rejected? Grafton’s
Chronicles rank high in English historical literature. They comprise the reign of King John; and yet
make no mention of the granting of Magna Charta. This is as if the life of Jefferson had been
written without mention of the Declaration of Independence; or a biography of
But the Evangelists were guided by inspiration, the skeptics say; and discrepancies are inconsistent with the theory of inspiration. God would not have inspired them to write contradictory stories. But the assumption is false that they claimed to be guided by inspiration; for, as Marcus Dods truthfully says, “none of our Gospels pretends to be infallible or even inspired. Only one of them tells us how its writer obtained his information, and that was by careful inquiry at the proper sources.”*
* An opposite doctrine seems to be taught in Luke 12:11-12; 24:48-49.
A more pertinent observation upon the Gospel discrepancies has not been made than that by Paley in his “Evidences of Christianity,” where he says:
I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action; the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statute, in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed time; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death, in the reign of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrew, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was beheaded; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday. Was any reader of English history ever skeptic enough to raise from hence a question whether the Marquis of Argyle was executed or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian history has sometimes been attacked.*
* Evidences of Christianity, p. 319. (Presented here in Appendix Two.)
The reader should most carefully consider the useful as well as the damaging effect of Gospel inconsistencies in the matter of the credibility of the Evangelists. A certain class of persons have imagined the Gospel writers to be common conspirators who met together at the same time and place to devise ways and means of publishing a false report to the world. This is a silly supposition, since it is positively known that the authors of the Evangelical narratives wrote and published them at different times and places. Moreover, the style and contents of the books themselves negative the idea of a concerted purpose to deceive. And, besides, the very inconsistencies themselves show that there was no “confederacy and fraud”; since intelligent conspirators would have fabricated exactly the same story in substantially the same language.
Further discussion on harmonizing the Resurrection accounts can be found at the following links:
James Patrick Holding. “Harmonization, The Issue of Complementary Accounts - Part 1”
James Patrick Holding. “Harmonization, The Issue of Complementary Accounts - Part 2”
James Patrick Holding. “Harmonization, The Issue of Complementary Accounts - Part 3”
James Patrick Holding. “Harmonization, The Issue of Complementary Accounts - Part 4”
James Patrick Holding. “In Harmony with the
Essenes: An Example of Non-Biblical Harmonization”
Glenn Miller. “Do the Resurrection accounts HOPELESSLY contradict one another?”
John Ankerberg, John Weldon. “An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives -- Part 1” Alleged Contradiction #1 - Who first came to the tomb and when did they arrive?
John Ankerberg, John Weldon. “An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives -- Part 2” Alleged Contradiction #2 - The angels at the tomb: How many angels were at the tomb - one or two - where and in what position were they located - and were they angels or men?
John Ankerberg, John Weldon. “An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives -- Part 3” Alleged contradiction #3: Do the message of the angels to the women at the tomb and the women’s response conflict in the Gospel accounts?
John Ankerberg, John Weldon. "An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives -- Part 4" The fourth alleged contradiction: Do Jesus’ Resurrection appearances conflict with one another?
John Ankerberg, John Weldon. "An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives -- Part 5” 1. Are the details surrounding the crucifixion contradictory?; 2. Are the details concerning the events that occurred around the time of Jesus’ death contradictory?; and 3. Are the events surrounding Jesus’ burial contradictory?
Sam Shamoun. The Resurrection Accounts
R. Forster and P. Marston. "The Resurrection of Jesus: A harmony of the resurrection accounts," Based upon the outline given in Reason & Faith, R Forster & P Marston, Monarch Publications, 1989, p 79 - 108.
Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light Ministry. Easter Harmony. Presented in response to the article Leave No Stone Unturned: An Easter Challenge For Christians posted on the Internet Infidels Web site.
Jesus Christ Saves Ministries. Dan Barker's Easter Challenge
Peter Ballard. Harmonizing the Resurrection Accounts. Answers to specific alleged contradictions Answers to objections poses by readers of this page
Steve Hinrichs. Resurrection of Jesus Puzzle.
George Benson. History of the Christian Religion. Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
John Eliot. The Harmony
of the Gospels, in the holy history of the humiliation and
sufferings of Jesus Christ, from his incarnation to his death and burial. [Two lines from Acts]
Bartholomew Keeling. Eight Discourses on the Harmony of the First Three Evangelists
James MacKnight. Harmony of the Four Gospels -- Part 1, Part 2
William Newcome. Review of the Chief Difficulties in the Gospel History, 1791
Matthew Pilkington. The Evangelical History and Harmony.
Edward Robinson. A Harmony
of the Four Gospels in English. According to the common version. Newly arranged, with explanatory notes.
Moses Stuart. A
Harmony in Greek of the Gospels with notes by William Newcome.
Richard Watson. An
Apology for Christianity in a Series of Letters Addressed to Edward
See the Reconciling Scripture webpage for more.